Surgical Technologists

Summary

surgical technologists image
Surgical technologists hand instruments and supplies to surgeons during an operation.
Quick Facts: Surgical Technologists
2012 Median Pay $41,790 per year
$20.09 per hour
Entry-Level Education Postsecondary non-degree award
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 98,500
Job Outlook, 2012-22 30% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 29,300

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.

Work Environment

Most surgical technologists work in hospitals. They spend much of their time on their feet.

How to Become a Surgical Technologist

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

Pay

The median annual wage for surgical technologists was $41,790 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of surgical technologists is projected to grow 30 percent from 2012 to 2022, much 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.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of surgical technologists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about surgical technologists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Surgical Technologists Do About this section

Surgical technologists
Surgical technologists may transport patients to surgery.

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

Duties

Surgical technologists typically do the following:

  • Prepare operating rooms for surgery
  • Sterilize equipment and make sure that there are adequate supplies for surgery
  • Prepare 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 to maintain a sterile environment

Surgical technologists work as members of a healthcare team alongside physicians and surgeons, registered 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 patients on the operating table, covering patients with sterile drapes, and taking patients 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 and may hold internal organs in place during the procedure. 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 About this section

Surgical technologists
Surgical technologists are trained to maintain the sterile field, preventing the risk of infection during surgery.

Surgical technologists held about 98,500 jobs in 2012. Most surgical technologists work in hospitals. Some work in outpatient care centers or in offices of physicians who perform outpatient surgery.

Surgical technologists wear scrubs (special sterile clothing) while they are in the operating room. Their work may be physically demanding, as they may be on their feet for long periods. Surgical technologists may also 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 About this section

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

Surgical technologists typically need a postsecondary certificate or an associate’s degree. Certification can be beneficial in finding a job as a surgical technologist. 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 GED.

Surgical technology education includes courses in anatomy, 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.

In 2012, about 500 surgical technologist training programs were accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

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

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 be able to provide the needed equipment quickly.

Integrity. Surgical technologists must have integrity, as they are trusted to provide sterile supplies and quality patient care during surgical procedures.

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 be able to work well under pressure while providing a high level of care.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certification can be beneficial in finding a job as a surgical technologist. Surgical technologists may earn certification through two 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 (NCCT).” An applicant must pass an exam and have taken one of several routes to be eligible. These routes include formal education, military training, or work experience, among others.

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

A small number of states have regulations governing the work of surgical technologists. In these areas, surgical technologists must have graduated from an accredited education program and earned certification. Certification requirements vary by state.

The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, the National Surgical Assistant Association, 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 becoming a registered nurse. Technologists may also choose to become operating room managers or educators. For more information, see the profiles on medical and health services managers and postsecondary teachers.

Pay About this section

Surgical Technologists

Median annual wages, May 2012

Surgical technologists

$41,790

Health technologists and technicians

$40,380

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for surgical technologists was $41,790 in May 2012. 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 $29,710, and the top 10 percent earned more than $60,240.

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 About this section

Surgical Technologists

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Surgical technologists

30%

Health technologists and technicians

24%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

Employment of surgical technologists is projected to grow 30 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Several factors will lead to demand for surgical technologists.

Advances in medical technology have made surgery safer, and more operations are being done to treat a variety of illnesses and injuries. The aging of the large baby-boom generation also 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.

Hospitals will continue to employ surgical technologists to work in operating rooms because they are more cost-effective than higher-paid registered nurses.

Job Prospects

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

Employment projections data for surgical technologists, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Surgical technologists

29-2055 98,500 127,800 30 29,300 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of surgical technologists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Dental assistants

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants have 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.

Postsecondary non-degree award $34,500
Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses

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.

Postsecondary non-degree award $41,540
Medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians

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.

See How to Become One $47,820
Medical assistants

Medical Assistants

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.

Postsecondary non-degree award $29,370
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Surgical Technologists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/surgical-technologists.htm (visited September 30, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014