Surgical Technologists


Quick Facts: Surgical Technologists
2017 Median Pay $46,310 per year 
$22.26 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Postsecondary nondegree award
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 107,700
Job Outlook, 2016-26 12% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 12,600

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Surgical Technologists Career, Salary, and Education Information

What Surgical Technologists Do

Surgical technologists, also called operating room technicians, assist in surgical operations. They prepare operating rooms, arrange equipment, and help doctors during surgeries.

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Surgical Technologists

Duties of Surgical Technologists

Surgical technologists typically do the following:

  • Prepare operating rooms for surgery

  • Sterilize equipment and make sure that there are adequate supplies for surgery

  • Ready patients for surgery, such as by washing and disinfecting incision sites

  • Help surgeons during surgery by passing them instruments and other sterile supplies

  • Count supplies, such as sponges and instruments

  • Maintain a sterile environment

Surgical technologists work as members of a healthcare team alongside physicians and surgeonsregistered nurses, and other healthcare workers.

Before an operation, surgical technologists prepare the operating room by setting up surgical instruments and equipment. They also prepare patients for surgery by washing and disinfecting incision sites, positioning the patients on the operating table, covering them with sterile drapes, and taking them to and from the operating room. Surgical technologists prepare sterile solutions and medications used in surgery and check that all surgical equipment is working properly. They help the surgical team put on sterile gowns and gloves.

During an operation, surgical technologists pass instruments and supplies to surgeons and first assistants. They also hold retractors, hold internal organs in place during the procedure, or set up robotic surgical equipment. Technologists also may handle specimens taken for laboratory analysis.

Once the operation is complete, surgical technologists may apply bandages and other dressings to the incision site. They may also help transfer patients to recovery rooms and restock operating rooms after a procedure.

Surgical first assistants have a hands-on role, directly assisting surgeons during a procedure. For instance, they may help to suction the incision site or suture a wound.


Work Environment for Surgical Technologists

Surgical technologists held about 107,700 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of surgical technologists were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private: 71%

Offices of physicians: 11%

Outpatient care centers: 11%

Offices of dentists: 4%

Ambulatory surgical centers are included in outpatient care centers.

Surgical technologists wear scrubs (special sterile clothing) while they are in the operating room. Their work may be physically demanding, requiring them to be on their feet for long periods. Surgical technologists also may need to help move patients or lift heavy trays of medical supplies. At times, they may be exposed to communicable diseases and unpleasant sights, odors, and materials.

Work Schedules

Most surgical technologists work full time. Surgical technologists employed in hospitals may work or be on call during nights, weekends, and holidays. They may also be required to work shifts lasting longer than 8 hours.


How to Become a Surgical Technologist

Surgical technologists typically need a postsecondary nondegree award or an associate’s degree. Certification can be beneficial in finding a job. A small number of states regulate surgical technologists.

Education

Surgical technologists typically need postsecondary education. Many community colleges and vocational schools, as well as some universities and hospitals, have accredited programs in surgical technology. Programs range in length from several months to 2 years, and they grant a diploma, certificate, or associate’s degree upon completion. Admission typically requires a high school diploma or the equivalent.

Surgical technology education includes courses in anatomy, physiology, biology, medical terminology, pharmacology, and other topics. Surgical technologists are trained in the care and safety of patients, sterilization techniques, how to set up technical or robotic equipment, and preventing and controlling infections. In addition to classroom study, students also work in supervised clinical settings to gain hands-on experience.

Surgical first assistants may complete a formal education program in surgical assisting. Others may work as surgical technologists and receive additional on-the-job training before becoming first assistants.

In 2016, there were about 500 surgical technologist programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Progra (CAAHEP).

Important Qualities

Detail oriented. Surgical technologists must pay close attention to their work at all times. For example, they need to provide the correct sterile equipment for surgeons during an operation.

Dexterity. Surgical technologists should be comfortable working with their hands. They must provide needed equipment quickly.

Integrity. Because they are trusted to provide sterile supplies and quality patient care during surgical procedures, surgical technologists must be ethical and honest.

Physical stamina. Surgical technologists should be comfortable standing for extended periods.

Stress-management skills. Working in an operating room can be stressful. Surgical technologists should work well under pressure while providing a high level of care.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certification can be beneficial in finding a job. Surgical technologists may earn certification through credentialing organizations.

Certification through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting allows the use of the title “Certified Surgical Technologist (CST).” Certification typically requires completing an accredited formal education program or military training program and passing an exam.

Certification through the National Center for Competency Testing allows the use of the title “Tech in Surgery – Certified or TS-C (NCCT).” Applicants may qualify through formal education, military training, or work experience. All require documenting critical skills and passing an exam.

Both certifications require surgical technologists to complete continuing education to maintain their certification.

In addition, many jobs require technologists to become certified in CPR or basic life support (BLS), or both.

A small number of states have regulations governing the work of surgical technologists or surgical first assistants, or both.

The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants, and the American Board of Surgical Assistants offer certification for surgical first assistants.

Advancement

Surgical technologists may choose to advance to other healthcare occupations, such as registered nurse. Advancement to other healthcare occupations would usually require additional education, training, and/or certifications or licenses. A technologist may also choose to become a postsecondary teacher of health specialties.


salaries for Surgical Technologists

The median annual wage for surgical technologists was $46,310 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,470, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $67,000.

 

In May 2017, the median annual wages for surgical technologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Outpatient care centers: $48,900

Offices of physicians: $45,980

Hospitals; state, local, and private: $45,930

Offices of dentists: $44,760

Most surgical technologists work full time. Surgical technologists employed in hospitals may work or be on call during nights, weekends, and holidays. They may also be required to work shifts lasting longer than 8 hours.


Job Outlook for surgical technologists

Employment of surgical technologists is projected to grow 12 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. Advances in medical technology have made surgery safer, and more operations are being done to treat a variety of illnesses and injuries.

In addition, the aging of the large baby-boom generation is expected to increase the need for surgical technologists because older people usually require more operations. Moreover, as these individuals age, they may be more willing than those in previous generations to seek medical treatment to improve their quality of life. For example, an individual may decide to have a knee replacement operation in order to maintain an active lifestyle or to have cataracts removed to improve vision.

Job Prospects

Job prospects should be best for surgical technologists who have completed an accredited education program and hold a certification.

Employment projections data for Surgical Technologists, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 107,700

Projected Employment, 2026: 120,300

Change, 2016-2026: +12%, +12,600


Careers Related to surgical technologists

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from providing patient care and taking x rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices where they work.

Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) provide basic nursing care. They work under the direction of registered nurses and doctors.

Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Medical laboratory technologists (commonly known as medical laboratory scientists) and medical laboratory technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.

Medical Assistants

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
Dental AssistantsPostsecondary nondegree award$37,630
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational NursesPostsecondary nondegree award$45,030
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians$51,770
Medical AssistantsPostsecondary nondegree award$32,480

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Surgical Technologists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/surgical-technologists.htm