Bureau of Labor Statistics

Surgical Technologists

surgical technologists image
Surgical technologists hand instruments and supplies to surgeons during an operation.
Quick Facts: Surgical Technologists
2018 Median Pay $47,300 per year
$22.74 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Postsecondary nondegree award
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2018 112,100
Job Outlook, 2018-28 9% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2018-28 9,700

Summary

What Surgical Technologists Do

Surgical technologists assist in surgical operations.

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 nondegree award 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 $47,300 in May 2018.

Job Outlook

Employment of surgical technologists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2018 to 2028, 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 with 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 surgical instruments, to ensure that no foreign objects are retained in patients
  • Maintain a sterile environment to prevent patient infection

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 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 first 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.

Work Environment

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

Surgical technologists held about 112,100 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of surgical technologists were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 72%
Outpatient care centers 11
Offices of physicians 10
Offices of dentists 3

Ambulatory surgical centers are included in outpatient care centers.

Surgical 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 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 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 a diploma, certificate, or associate’s degree from an accredited surgical technology program. Many community colleges and vocational schools, as well as some universities and hospitals, offer accredited programs that range in length from several months to 2 years.

Surgical technology education includes courses such as anatomy, microbiology, and physiology. They 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.

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 to become first assistants.

There are about 500 surgical technologist programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Program​s (CAAHEP).

Important Qualities

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

Detail oriented. Surgical technologists must pay close attention to their work. 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 care for patients during surgical procedures, surgical 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 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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certification may be beneficial for 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 usually requires additional education, training, and/or certifications or licenses. A technologist may also choose to become a postsecondary teacher of health specialties.

Pay

Surgical Technologists

Median annual wages, May 2018

Surgical technologists

$47,300

Health technologists and technicians

$44,700

Total, all occupations

$38,640

 

The median annual wage for surgical technologists was $47,300 in May 2018. 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 $32,870, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $69,170.

In May 2018, the median annual wages for surgical technologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Outpatient care centers $50,340
Hospitals; state, local, and private 46,990
Offices of physicians 46,670
Offices of dentists 45,030

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 2018-28

Health technologists and technicians

10%

Surgical technologists

9%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

Employment of surgical technologists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2018 to 2028, 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, 2018-28

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

Occupational Title

Surgical technologists

SOC Code29-2055
Employment, 2018112,100
Projected Employment, 2028121,800
Percent Change, 2018-289
Numeric Change, 2018-289,700
Employment by IndustryGet data

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.

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

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

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2018 MEDIAN PAY
Dental assistants

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants provide patient care, take x rays, recordkeeping 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 $46,240
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 $52,330
Medical assistants

Medical Assistants

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

Postsecondary nondegree award $33,610
Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses.

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, educate patients and the public about various health conditions.

Bachelor's degree $71,730

Contacts for More Info

For more information about surgical technologists, visit

Association of Surgical Technologists

For a list of accredited programs for surgical technologists, visit

Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs

For information about certification, visit

The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting

National Center for Competency Testing

National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants

American Board of Surgical Assistants

O*NET

Surgical Technologists

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Suggested 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 (visited December 04, 2019).

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