Top Surgical Technician Programs in California: Your Guide to a Thriving Career

If you’re aspiring to become a surgical technician in California, finding the right program is critical to your success. This guide demystifies the search, pinpointing the top surgical technician programs in California and what makes them stand out. Whether you’re interested in certificate programs for a swift career start or associate degrees for comprehensive training, our rundown includes accredited and reputable institutions that can set you on the right path. Discover how to align your career goals with program offerings, understand essential admission requirements, and get a glimpse of the rewarding career opportunities that follow.

Key Takeaways

  • California offers a variety of accredited surgical technician programs, with some providing 500+ hours of practical clinical experience, and others like American Career College and SJVC providing Associate degrees and tailored options for advancement.
  • Certification for surgical technologists in California, while not legally required, is highly recommended and can be obtained through organizations like the NBSTSA or NCCT after completing an accredited program and passing the relevant exam.
  • Job prospects for surgical technicians in California are robust, with about 9,600 annual openings and opportunities for career advancement through further education, specialization, and certifications.

Exploring Surgical Technician Programs in California

Surgical technician program in California

Aspiring surgical technologists in California have a multitude of options at their disposal. The state offers certificate programs for quick workforce entry and Associate degree programs, including a surgical tech degree, for an in-depth education, catering to your career goals and timeline. Certified professionals can leverage online surgical tech programs to advance their education to an Associate level, ensuring work commitments remain undisturbed. Institutions like the American Career College offer tailored programs, culminating in an Associate Degree, that equip you with the specialized skills needed to excel in the field.

Diploma programs, designed for individuals seeking swift entry into the workforce, provide you with the necessary technical skills and medical knowledge. This makes you an attractive candidate for healthcare employers looking for competent surgical techs who can hit the ground running. No matter what program you choose, the end goal is the same – to become a certified surgical technologist, ready to contribute effectively to the surgical team.

Top Surgical Tech Schools in California

Quality is paramount in surgical tech education, making it imperative to select a school offering an accredited program. Skyline College, for instance, boasts a Surgical Technology program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), ensuring high standards of education for its students. Berkeley College is another institution offering a CAAHEP-accredited Surgical Technology program, setting a robust foundation for your career in the field.

Skyline College

  • Program Overview
    • Surgical technologists work in hospitals, surgery centers, and physician’s offices to provide patient care before, during, and after surgery.
    • The program includes academic and clinical instruction, covering preparation and handling of surgical instruments and equipment.
    • Graduates are eligible to take the national certification exam for Certified Surgical Technologist (CST).
  • Accreditation
    • Accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
    • For more information, visit ARC/STSA.
  • Admission Procedures and Requirements
    • Students are admitted once a year, starting in the summer and completing by the end of the following spring semester.
    • Special application is required, available from the STEM Division Office or the college website.
    • Minimum entrance requirements:
      • High school diploma or GED
      • Courses in Human Anatomy, Medical Terminology, and Microbiology
      • Completion of 19 units of General Education and additional graduation requirements (5-11 units)
    • Additional requirements include:
      • Composition English (ENGL 100 or 105)
      • Intermediate Algebra or higher-level math
    • Applicants must undergo a physical examination, immunization documentation, background check, and drug test before starting classes.

The Surgical Technology AS Degree Program at Skyline College provides comprehensive training for surgical technologists, combining academic coursework and clinical practice, and prepares students for the national CST certification exam. The program requires specific prerequisite courses and health and background checks for admission.

Berkeley College

  • Program Overview
    • The Surgical Technology program prepares students to be key members of surgical teams, assisting in various hands-on tasks such as:
      • Preparing operating rooms and surgical instruments.
      • Preparing patients for surgery.
      • Passing instruments to surgeons during procedures.
      • Maintaining sterile environments.
      • Monitoring operating room conditions.
    • Emphasizes both theoretical knowledge and practical skills through on-site surgical labs and clinical practicums.
  • Program Benefits
    • Strong foundation in surgical technology theory and techniques.
    • Hands-on experience in simulated surgical environments.
    • Clinical practicums at healthcare facilities for real-world experience.
    • Liberal arts and sciences courses to enhance reasoning and communication skills.
  • Accreditation and Certification
    • The program at Woodland Park campus is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), based on recommendations from the Accreditation Review Council on Education in Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (ARC/STSA).
    • Graduates of the accredited program are eligible for the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam, administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA).
  • Degree Program
    • Associate in Applied Science (AAS) in Surgical Technology.

Berkeley College’s Surgical Technology program offers comprehensive training for surgical technologists, combining theoretical knowledge with practical experience. Despite the current probationary accreditation status, graduates are still eligible to take the national CST exam. The program’s emphasis on hands-on learning and clinical practicums prepares students for effective roles in surgical teams.

San Joaquin Valley College

Program Overview:

  • SJVC’s Surgical Technology program focuses on the theory and application of sterile techniques, human anatomy, and therapeutic and diagnostic surgical procedures.

Real-World Skills:

  • The program offers extensive classes designed to prepare students for a career as a Surgical Technologist.

Degree Timeline:

  • Students can earn an Associate of Science degree in as few as 15 months.

Flexible Learning Options:

  • The program is available at four SJVC campuses.


  • Tuition is affordable and varies by program and location.

Curriculum Includes:

  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Surgical Case Management
  • Advanced Surgical Procedures
  • Clinical Experience

Successful Grads:

  • Graduates are well-prepared for roles in trauma centers and other surgical settings, with hands-on experiences that include handling critical surgical tasks.

Comparing Program Options

Several factors come into play when selecting the ideal surgical tech program. Consider the program duration as an important aspect when making your decision.

  • Diploma programs in California can take as little as one year
  • Associate degree programs typically span two years
  • For example, the Surgical Technology program at San Joaquin Valley College can be completed in as few as 15 months for an Associate of Science degree.

Another key component to consider during the decision process is the curriculum. A well-rounded surgical tech program should cover essential real-world skills, such as anatomy & physiology, surgical case management, and advanced surgical procedures, along with providing ample clinical experience. Furthermore, accreditation by organizations like the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) is vital as it ensures the education provided meets the certification requirements necessary for employment in California.

Keep in mind that although some programs offer online coursework, surgical tech programs necessitate clinical experience and hence, cannot be entirely online.

Essential Skills for Surgical Technicians

Essential skills for surgical technicians

To excel in the operating room as a surgical technologist, a unique blend of skills is required. Fine motor skills are crucial for manipulating surgical instruments and equipment precisely and swiftly, as well as for performing accurately during surgical procedures. The demanding nature of the role necessitates physical stamina, which enables standing, bending, and lifting for prolonged periods without breaks.

This field places high importance on the following skills:

  • Excellent verbal and written English competency
  • Interpersonal skills necessary to work well within a team environment
  • Ability to work under stress and make appropriate judgment decisions
  • Utilization of cognitive abilities for tasks such as tracking supplies and anticipating needs during surgeries
  • Sensory abilities and empathy to maintain safety and meet patient needs

A successful surgical tech thrives on collaboration and teamwork, displays positive interpersonal skills, and assists with patient care when required. In their role, surgical technologists assist the surgical team, ensuring a smooth and efficient procedure.

Admission Process for Surgical Tech Programs in California

Once the decision to pursue a career in surgical technology is made, the next course of action is the admission process. In California, the admission requirements typically include:

  • Having a GED or high school diploma
  • Passing a drug test
  • Taking a TB test
  • In some cases, specific entrance exams or SAT/ACT scores may be required.

The application process often includes:

  • Consulting with an admissions advisor to discuss your educational options and career aspirations
  • Requesting information or scheduling a consultation with the admissions department early to begin the admissions process and receive an information guide on becoming a Surgical Technologist in California
  • Being mindful of specific application deadlines where they exist

Some surgical tech programs in California have rolling admissions policies, where early application is advised.

The Surgical Technician Curriculum

Surgical technician curriculum

Being a surgical technician requires an artful balance of knowledge and skill. A quality surgical tech program ensures a harmonious blend of theoretical knowledge and practical application, preparing you for the rigors of the operating room.

Exploring the core courses and the hands-on clinical experience, which are integral to the curriculum, shapes a competent surgical technologist.

Core Courses

At the heart of any surgical tech program lie the core courses. These foundational subjects include anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, and the essential knowledge needed for all surgical technicians. The application of sterile techniques is a critical part of the curriculum, ensuring that students not only understand the theoretical principles but can also apply them in a clinical setting.

Learning about surgical case management is another core component, preparing students to handle the various aspects of surgical cases effectively. Additionally, advanced surgical procedures are included in the core curriculum, equipping students with the skills necessary for more complex surgical settings.

Hands-on Clinical Experience

Surgical tech education extends beyond textbooks and lectures; it involves practical, hands-on experience. California’s surgical tech programs provide extensive real-world clinical experience, allowing students to:

  • Participate in over a hundred surgical cases through externships or internships over 18 months
  • Gain hands-on training in actual surgical procedures
  • Participate directly in patient care
  • Assist with tasks such as instrument processing and supply management in real operating room settings

This hands-on training provides surgical technology students with valuable skills and prepares them for a career as a surgical technician.

Mock surgical procedures using actual equipment found in operating rooms help students bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical skills in surgical techniques. Clinical rotations start from the seventh quarter of the program, providing structured and timely exposure to hospital settings and emphasizing the essential role of clinical experience in surgical technology education.

Certification and Licensure for Surgical Technicians in California

Upon successful completion of your surgical tech program, you can proceed to obtain certification. To become a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) in California, you need to obtain certification from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) or the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). Earning the CST credential generally involves completing an accredited surgical technology program and successfully passing a national certification exam, which covers perioperative care, ancillary duties, and basic science.

Accreditation of surgical tech programs, such as by CAAHEP, is a critical factor in ensuring that the education provided meets essential requirements for certification. To maintain your CST certification, you must complete continuing education requirements or pass a recertification examination, which varies depending on the credentialing body.

Although not legally required in California, many healthcare employers strongly prefer or mandate that surgical technicians hold CST certification to ensure a standard level of competencies and skills.

Job Opportunities for Certified Surgical Technicians in California

Job opportunities for surgical technicians in California

Certification paves the way for various opportunities in the healthcare world. As a certified surgical technician in California, you can work across various healthcare settings, including hospitals, outpatient care centers, and physicians’ offices performing outpatient surgery. In hospitals, you may be assigned to specific departments or serve as a floater, moving between departments as needed. Outpatient surgery clinics offer an alternative work environment, providing set schedules with fewer on-call requirements.

Surgical technicians can also pursue additional certifications in specialized fields such as cardiothoracic, neurology, or urology, broadening their scope of expertise and career opportunities. Opportunities for career advancement include roles like a surgical assistant, instructor, manager, or clinical coordinator, achievable through further education or additional qualifications. Diverse roles await surgical technicians in settings like ambulatory surgery centers, labor and delivery units, or sterile processing departments, each offering unique experiences and responsibilities.

With an average of 9,600 job openings for surgical assistants and technologists projected each year, it’s clear that the employment prospects are robust.

Financing Your Surgical Tech Education in California

Financing options for surgical tech education

Your journey to becoming a certified surgical technician represents an investment in your future. However, financial constraints shouldn’t stand in your way. Students pursuing surgical tech education in California have access to various financial supports, such as federal loans, grants, and scholarships from private organizations. Federal grants like the PELL Grant and FSEOG provide financial support based on need and do not require repayment, while low-interest federal loans offer deferred payment options for students.

Scholarship opportunities are available from:

  • Private organizations and foundations, based on specific criteria
  • The Association of Surgical Technologists for eligible student members
  • The California Student Aid Commission, which provides state-specific financial aid such as the Cal Grant
  • The Middle-Class Scholarship, which is available for healthcare-focused students in California for further tuition assistance.

Professional Organizations and Networking Opportunities

For a surgical tech, joining a larger professional community can provide immense benefits. The Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) is the premier professional organization for surgical technicians across the United States, founded in 1969 with over 40,000 members. It is dedicated to the education and professional development of surgical techs, advocating for the profession, and providing support at both national and state levels, embracing students as the future workforce.

In the surgical tech field, networking plays a vital role in career advancement. Building relationships while in surgical tech school and beyond can open up opportunities and insights that can significantly enhance your career.

Tips for Success in Your Surgical Tech Career

Success as a surgical tech goes beyond mere technical skills and knowledge. Consider pursuing the following to expand your expertise:

  • Additional certifications in specialized areas of surgical technology
  • Regularly attending continuing education courses to keep your skills and knowledge current
  • Obtaining advanced credentials like the Certified Surgical First Assistant (CSFA) to enhance your career opportunities.

Joining professional surgical tech organizations can provide access to resources, conferences, and networking events that can significantly help your career. Networking with colleagues through social media and professional networks can build relationships and provide opportunities to learn from others in your field.

Lastly, stay abreast of industry trends by subscribing to surgical tech journals and online forums to keep your skills sharp and relevant.


We’ve taken you on a journey through the exciting world of surgical technology in California. From exploring the top schools and program options to the admission process, core curriculum, certification, and job opportunities, we’ve covered everything you need to know to begin your career as a certified surgical tech. Remember, your road to success involves not just acquiring the right knowledge and skills, but also networking, staying updated on industry trends, and continually advancing your education. With passion, dedication, and the right education, you can make a real difference in the lives of surgical patients.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become a surgical tech in California?

You can become a surgical tech in California in 12 to 24 months. This relatively short timeframe allows you to start working in the field relatively quickly.

What is the best major for a surgical tech?

The best major for a surgical tech is medical technician, as it is the most common major for this profession, followed by nursing and business. This provides the necessary education and skills to pursue a career in surgical technology.

What is the hourly rate for a surgical tech in California?

The average hourly rate for a surgical technician in California is $32.77, but it can vary based on experience, with entry-level positions starting at $50,63 per hour and experienced workers making up to $139,880 per year.

Do surgical techs need a license in California?

No, surgical techs do not need a license to work in California. The CST examination is not required in the state.

What types of surgical tech programs are available in California?

In California, you can find certificate programs, diploma programs, and associate degree programs for surgical tech training. Some online programs are also available for certified professionals seeking further education.