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Bureau of Labor Statistics

Surgical Technologists

surgical technologists image
Surgical technologists hand instruments and supplies to surgeons during an operation.
Quick Facts: Surgical Technologists
2015 Median Pay $44,330 per year
$21.31 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Postsecondary nondegree award
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 99,800
Job Outlook, 2014-24 15% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 14,700

Summary

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. A small number of states regulate surgical technologists.

Pay

The median annual wage for surgical technologists was $44,330 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of surgical technologists is projected to grow 15 percent from 2014 to 2024, 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.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for surgical technologists.

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

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
  • 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 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 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

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

Surgical technologists held about 99,800 jobs in 2014. About 70 percent of surgical technologists worked in hospitals in 2014. 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, 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
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. 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, 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.

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 needed equipment quickly.

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

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. 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 (NCCT).” Applicants may qualify through formal education, military training, work experience, or other eligibility paths. 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, or both.

A small number of states have regulations governing the work of surgical technologists or surgical 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. Technologists may also choose to become a postsecondary teacher of health specialties.

Pay

Surgical Technologists

Median annual wages, May 2015

Surgical technologists

$44,330

Health technologists and technicians

$42,190

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for surgical technologists was $44,330 in May 2015. 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 $31,410, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $63,410.

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

Surgical Technologists

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Health technologists and technicians

16%

Surgical technologists

15%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of surgical technologists is projected to grow 15 percent from 2014 to 2024, 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. In addition, the number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continue to increase because of federal health insurance reform, which should in turn lead to increased demand for surgical services.

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.

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, 2014-24

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

Occupational Title

Surgical technologists

SOC Code29-2055
Employment, 201499,800
Projected Employment, 2024114,500
Percent Change, 2014-2415
Numeric Change, 2014-2414,700
Employment by Industry[XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

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

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2015 MEDIAN PAY
Dental assistants

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.

Postsecondary nondegree award $35,980
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 nondegree award $43,170
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 $50,550
Medical assistants

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.

Postsecondary nondegree award $30,590

Contacts for More Info

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Surgical Technologists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/surgical-technologists.htm (visited June 26, 2016).

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