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What Is the Difference Between a Surgical Tech and a Sterile Tech?

If you’re considering a career in the medical field, you may be trying to narrow your options down a bit. For example, there are various tech roles, and it may be helpful to explore two popular options: surgical tech and sterile tech. It will give you a better idea of the differences between the two roles, and it may help you move a little closer to deciding if one of these roles is right for you.

Educational Requirements

A high school diploma or GED is a prerequisite for people who would like to study to become sterile techs. If candidates meet that requirement, they can look for a program that meets their needs; however, it’s essential to ensure that the school is accredited by an agency recognized by the United States Secretary of Education. Most program are between four and eight months, but they can be as short as ten weeks or as long as two years.

Similarly, the high school diploma or GED requirement is in place for people who would like to be surgical techs. The length of the educational program can vary here, as well. Depending on the path chosen, programs can last anywhere from several months to two years. Ultimately, educational programs may be similar in length, but the material covered in each will be specific to the field chosen.


Sterile techs work behind the scenes, and they do not work directly with patients. They sterilize and assemble equipment required for surgeries, exams, and other medical procedures; they may also inventory equipment and order new equipment as needed. This is an important role, partly because sterile techs are a primary line of defense against infection in any healthcare environment.

Surgical tech is an important role, as well; one of the main differences is that people in this role work directly with patients. In addition to preparing the operating room and the surgical equipment, surgical techs prepare patients for surgery. In addition, the surgical tech is a member of the surgical team, passing instruments and other sterile supplies to the surgeon and nurses.

Work Environment

Both of these roles are essential to provide the best care for patients. If surgical techs are front and center in operating rooms, much like actors in a play, sterile techs primarily work behind the scenes, as a producer would do for that same play. Although their roles are different, surgeries and other procedures couldn’t happen without either of them.

Although there are some differences between sterile techs and surgical techs, there are some similarities, too. Both assist with medical procedures, and both fill essential roles in healthcare. That’s part of what makes these careers so rewarding and fulfilling; they’re both wonderful options for people who want to work in the medical field and make a difference every day.

Do you want to be a sterile tech or a surgical tech?

At 365 Healthcare Staffing Services, we specialize in the recruitment and placement of healthcare professionals in per diem, travel, and permanent assignments in healthcare facilities across the country. Is one of these roles for you? If so, we’d love to hear from you down the road, when you’re ready for your next assignment. We can help! Give us a call at 310.436.3650.