What Is a Scrub Tech?

HealthcareDecember 27, 2023

Surgical units thrive on precision. Even the slightest disruption to the operating room process can cause issues that may impact the procedure’s integrity. Therefore, every member of the surgical team needs to work in a manner that promotes cohesion.

One of these critical team members is the surgical technologist, often called a scrub tech. Their work connects to the entire surgical process, including the preoperative and postoperative stages. Their duties help optimize operating room cleanliness and surgical team efficiency, two metrics that are vital to providing the best patient care possible. 

For those interested in earning a medical technology degree and pursuing a role as a surgical technologist, it is important to fully understand what a scrub tech is and why they play such a vital role in the surgical process. 

Scrub Tech Responsibilities

A surgical technologist is called a scrub tech because of the work they do in an operating room, an outpatient facility, or an ambulatory surgery center. They often function as the right hand of a surgeon during an operation by handing them instruments and other supplies. This is the part of the role often portrayed in medical dramas, but it only represents a fraction of their job duties. These duties can be separated into three categories: preoperative, surgical, and postoperative duties.

Preoperative Duties

Prior to an operation, scrub techs prepare all of the tools needed for the procedure, ensuring that all the equipment is sterile. Additionally, surgical techs will perform quality control checks to make sure everything will function properly. Their preparation work also extends to the patient, as they conduct tasks such as transporting patients to the operating room and shaving and disinfecting their incision sites.

Scrub techs will help physicians and other surgical team members “scrub” before the operation. This process involves scrubbing their hands and arms before they put on clean hospital gowns, masks, and latex gloves — garments commonly known as scrubs. These garments are easy to wear and clean and do not contain pockets, which helps minimize the presence of potential contaminants. 

Surgical Duties

A surgical technologist passes sterile instruments to both surgeons and first surgical assistants as they’re called out during the operation. This is an extremely important part of the job, and surgical techs need to have all the proper instruments at their fingertips, as well as anticipate any other tools or supplies a surgeon might require during a procedure. These supplies are not only essential in performing the procedure, they can ultimately play an important role in saving a life.

In addition to this vital responsibility, scrub techs may also conduct tasks such as holding organs steady during an operation or preparing robotic surgical equipment. Additionally, they may need to handle various specimens intended for lab analysis.

Postoperative Duties

After the surgical procedure, a surgical technologist may apply dressings and bandages to the incision site to keep it clean. They can also help move the patient to a recovery room. Once the operating room is empty, they can restock necessary supplies and disinfect surgical equipment and tools.

Another critical activity of scrub techs before and after a surgery is surgical counting. This process involves taking strict inventory of the instruments, compresses, sponges, and needles used during a procedure. Counting must happen before a procedure to ensure every tool or material needed for the procedure is available. It must also happen after a procedure to ensure everything is collected and not accidentally left inside the patient, which could result in dire consequences for a patient’s postoperative health.

Scrub Tech vs. Scrub Nurse 

The terms “scrub tech” and “surgical technologist” are interchangeable. The terms “scrub tech” and “scrub nurse,” on the other hand, are not. This can be confusing at times, because these two roles have a few overlapping duties. For instance, both can help prepare operating tools, ensure instrument sterilization, and help transport patients to recovery rooms after an operation.

The key difference between the two roles involves the terminology’s application. “Scrub tech” is a blanket term used to describe surgical technologists responsible for the essential technical elements of the process. “Scrub nurse” is used to describe specific types of surgical or operating room nurses who can take on additional tasks. These tasks can include administering medication during surgeries and monitoring vital signs after surgeries.

How to Become a Scrub Tech 

Once an interested individual understands what a scrub tech is, it is important for them to explore the typical steps needed to become a scrub tech. 

Educational Requirements 

The typical educational benchmark for a scrub tech is the completion of a surgical technologist associate degree or certificate program. These programs commonly blend classroom and hands-on clinical work to create a holistic learning environment. This program can be part of an institution’s larger stable of medical technologist programs.

Certification and Licensure 

Depending on their state of practice, individuals may be required to obtain professional certification and licensure after graduating from a surgical technologist program. Regardless of their requirements, obtaining a credential such as a certified surgical technologist (CST) or a tech in surgery-certified (TS-C) certification can improve an aspiring scrub tech’s employment chances with prospective employers, and some employers require certification. 


Because scrub techs work in surgical environments, they can also hone their craft to work toward assisting in a surgery specialization. Surgery specialization areas include colon and rectal surgery, neurological surgery, orthopedic surgery, and pediatric surgery.

Play a Key Role in the Surgical Process

A scrub tech is an essential member of the surgical team, helping to keep patients safe, facilitating the efficient flow of the surgical process, and reducing the risk of errors. Scrub techs gain job satisfaction from providing cohesion to any surgical process, large or small, as well as helping a patient’s health improve.

Fortis’ medical technologist and technician programs can help prepare you for a gratifying career in the healthcare industry. Our surgical technologist associate degree program can help you gain the knowledge, skills, and clinical experience needed not only to be able to perform the duties associated with the role but also to execute them with confidence. Learn more about what a scrub tech is and how we can help you get ready for this rewarding profession.

Recommended Readings
Choosing a Surgical Specialty Area as a Surgical Technologist
Surgical Assistant vs. Surgical Tech
Surgical Tech: Job Description, Requirements, and Outlook

Brazilian Journal of Nursing, “Surgical Counting: Design of Implementation and Maintenance of a Standardized Evidence-Based Procedure”
Indeed, “How to Become a Surgical Technician (With Helpful FAQs)”
Indeed, “Scrub Nurse vs. Surgical Tech: Career Differences”
The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, CST Certification
National Center for Competency Testing, Tech in Surgery TS-C (NCCT)
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Surgical Assistants and Technologists
Verywell Health, “What Is a Scrub Tech?”