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Surgical Assistants and Technologists

Summary

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Video transcript available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3n0UqojVA0.
Quick Facts: Surgical Assistants and Technologists
2021 Median Pay $48,510 per year
$23.32 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Postsecondary nondegree award
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2021 128,700
Job Outlook, 2021-31 6% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2021-31 7,700

What Surgical Assistants and Technologists Do

Surgical assistants and technologists help with surgical operations.

Work Environment

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

How to Become a Surgical Assistant or Technologist

Surgical assistants and technologists typically need a certificate or an associate’s degree. Employers may require or prefer that workers have certification. Some states regulate these workers. 

Pay

The median annual wage for surgical assistants was $48,320 in May 2021.

The median annual wage for surgical technologists was $48,530 in May 2021.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of surgical assistants and technologists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 9,600 openings for surgical assistants and technologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

State & Area Data

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

Similar Occupations

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

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

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

What Surgical Assistants and Technologists Do About this section

Surgical technologists
Surgical technologists may transport patients to surgery.

Surgical assistants and technologists help with surgical operations. Surgical assistants, also called surgical first assistants, help surgeons with tasks such as making incisions, placing clamps, and closing surgical sites. Surgical technologists, also called operating room technicians, prepare operating rooms, arrange equipment, and help doctors and first assistants 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 surgical instruments, to ensure that no foreign objects are retained in patients
  • Maintain a sterile environment to prevent patient infection

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

During an operation, surgical technologists pass the sterile instruments and supplies to surgeons and first assistants. They might 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.

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

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

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

Work Environment About this section

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

Surgical assistants held about 18,000 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of surgical assistants were as follows:

General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and private 41%
Offices of physicians 25
Offices of dentists 20
Outpatient care centers 3
Offices of other health practitioners 2

Surgical technologists held about 110,700 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of surgical technologists were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 72%
Offices of physicians 11
Outpatient care centers 11
Offices of dentists 2
Administrative and support services 1

Ambulatory surgical centers are included in outpatient care centers.

Surgical assistants and technologists wear scrubs and sterile gowns, gloves, caps, and masks 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 assistants and technologists work full time. Surgical assistants and 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 Assistant or Technologist About this section

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

Surgical assistants and technologists typically need a certificate or an associate’s degree. Employers may require or prefer that workers have certification. Some states regulate these workers.

Education

Surgical assistants and technologists typically need a certificate or associate’s degree from an accredited program. Many community colleges and vocational schools, as well as some universities and hospitals, offer accredited surgical technology or surgical assisting programs.

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

Surgical technology education includes courses such as anatomy, microbiology, and physiology. These workers also learn about 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 gain hands-on experience in supervised clinical settings.

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredits programs in surgical technology and surgical assisting.

Important Qualities

Communication. To prevent infections or other complications, surgical assistants and technologists must relay any issues that arise during surgery to the other members of the healthcare team.

Detail oriented. Surgical assistants and technologists must pay close attention to their work. For example, surgical technologists need to provide the correct sterile equipment for surgeons during an operation.

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

Integrity. Because they are trusted to help during surgical procedures, surgical assistants and technologists must be ethical and honest.

Listening skills. Responding to requests from surgeons and others on the surgical team requires the ability to listen to and understand spoken directions.

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

Stress-management skills. Working in an operating room can be stressful. Surgical assistants and technologists should work well under pressure.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certification may be beneficial for finding a job, and some employers may require it. Surgical assistants and technologists may earn certification through credentialing organizations.

For example, 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.

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 assistants.

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

Some states have regulations governing the work of surgical assistants and technologists. For more information, contact your state licensing agency.

Advancement

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

Pay About this section

Surgical Assistants and Technologists

Median annual wages, May 2021

Surgical technologists

$48,530

Surgical assistants and technologists

$48,510

Surgical assistants

$48,320

Health technologists and technicians

$46,910

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for surgical assistants was $48,320 in May 2021. 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 $32,680, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $96,870.

The median annual wage for surgical technologists was $48,530 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $75,940.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for surgical assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Offices of physicians $61,250
General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and private 49,940
Outpatient care centers 48,570
Offices of other health practitioners 47,000
Offices of dentists 40,540

In May 2021, the median annual wages for surgical technologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Outpatient care centers $56,470
Offices of physicians 50,220
Hospitals; state, local, and private 48,310
Offices of dentists 48,070
Administrative and support services 37,850

Most surgical assistants and technologists work full time. Surgical assistants and 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 Assistants and Technologists

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Health technologists and technicians

7%

Surgical assistants

6%

Surgical assistants and technologists

6%

Surgical technologists

6%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

Overall employment of surgical assistants and technologists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 9,600 openings for surgical assistants and technologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

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 assistants and 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.

Employment projections data for surgical assistants and technologists, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Surgical assistants and technologists

128,700 136,400 6 7,700

Surgical assistants

29-9093 18,000 19,200 6 1,200 Get data

Surgical technologists

29-2055 110,700 117,200 6 6,500 Get data

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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 OEWS 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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop 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 About this section

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

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help on Entry-Level Education 2021 MEDIAN PAY Help on Median Pay
Dental assistants Dental Assistants

Dental assistants provide patient care, take x rays, keep records, and schedule appointments.

Postsecondary nondegree award $38,660
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.

Postsecondary nondegree award $48,070
Medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.

Bachelor's degree $57,800
Medical assistants Medical Assistants

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in hospitals, offices of physicians, and other healthcare facilities.

Postsecondary nondegree award $37,190
Physicians and surgeons Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses and address health maintenance.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.
Registered nurses Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care and educate patients and the public about various health conditions.

Bachelor's degree $77,600
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Surgical Assistants and Technologists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/surgical-technologists.htm (visited November 27, 2022).

Last Modified Date: Thursday, September 8, 2022

What They Do

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Work Environment

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State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

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2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2021

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2021, which is the base year of the 2021-31 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2021-31

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031. The average growth rate for all occupations is 5 percent.

Employment Change, 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.