Surgical Technologists Overview

Surgical technologists should expect an employment growth that is must faster than average. Aspiring surgical technologists must attend a surgical technologist training program that lasts between 9 and 24 months and grant graduates a diploma, certificate or associates degree. Those who are certified and are willing to relocate should enjoy the best job opportunities. Much faster employment growth is projected in other healthcare industries, but hospitals will continue to be the primary employer of surgical technologists.

Nature of the Work for Surgical Technologists

Surgical Technologists

Surgical technologists are also known as scrubs and surgical and operating room technicians. Under the direction and supervision of surgeons, registered nurses or other surgical personnel, surgical technologists will assist in surgical operations. Other members of the operating team include anesthesiologists, surgeons and circulating nurses.

Prior to an operation, surgical technologists set up surgical equipment and instruments. They assemble sterile equipment including sterile drapes and sterile solutions as well as nonsterile equipment. To prepare patients for surgery, a surgical technologist will wash, shave and disinfect incision sites. Next, they will transfer patients to the operating room, help place them on the operating table and cover them with sterile surgical drapes. During surgery, they monitor the patients vital signs, check charts and assist the surgical team to put on sterile gloves and gowns. They also pass instruments and other sterile supplies to surgeons and surgical assistants. Surgical technologists aid in the transfer of specimens taken for laboratory analysis. Others operate lights, suction machines and sterilizers as well as help operate diagnostic equipment.

Post operation, surgical technologists may help transfer patients to the recovery room and prepare the operating room for the next surgical procedure by cleaning and restocking.

With proper training and certification, surgical technologists may become surgical first assistants or circulator. The surgical first assistant works under the direction of the surgeon to control blood flow and prevent hemorrhaging, provides aids in exposure and many other functions that help the surgeon carry out a safe operation. The circulating technologist acts as the unsterile member of the team, interviewing and preparing patients for surgery. They also help with anesthesia, find and open packages for the sterile members of the team. They also take notes during the surgical procedure and answer any questions the surgeon may have about the patient.

Surgical technicians are required to stand for long periods of time and stay alert during operations, however they often work in well-lit, cool, clean environments. They may be exposed to unpleasant odors, sights and materials or be exposed to communicable diseases.

Some surgical technicians are on-call or work weekends, nights and holidays, while others work a regular 40-hour workweek.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Surgical Technologists

There are 450 accredited formal training programs for surgical technologists offered at junior and community colleges, universities, vocational schools, the military and hospitals. Programs typically last between 9 and 24 months and grant graduates with a diploma, certificate or associates degree. Normally, the minimum requirement is a high school diploma. Interested high school students should take courses in chemistry, biology, mathematics and health.

Popular courses for surgical technologists students to take are physiology, anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology, medical terminology and professional ethics. Students will also learn proper care and safety of a patient during surgery, surgical procedures and sterile techniques. Other important techniques that surgical technologists learn are preventing and controlling infection, sterilizing instruments and handling special solutions, supplies, equipment and drugs.

Surgical technologists are not required to obtain certification, though many employers prefer to hire applicants who have certification. The Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist offers the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) designation to those who graduate from a CAAHEP-accredited program and passing national certification exam. To maintain CST certification, they must earn 60 hours of continued education over a 4-year period and then pass or retake the certifying examination.

Surgical technologists also may gain certification from the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). Candidate may qualify to take the exam by either completing an accredited training program, having 7 years of experience in the field, or complete a 2-year hospital on-the-job training program. Those who pass the exam receive the designation Tech in Surgery-Certified, TS-C (NCCT). Surgical technologists who receive this designation must renew every 5 years with reexamination or continuing education.

Surgical technologists must be emotionally stable, orderly and conscientious in order to handle the demands of the operating room. They must have a strong knowledge of operating procedures. Continuing education is required, as they are expected to keep on top of new developments in the field.

Surgical technologists may advance by becoming a circulation technologist, a first assistant or by specializing in a type of surgery such as open-heart surgery or neurosurgery. Others may advance to management positions at hospital supply departments or in operating equipment firms, sterile supply services or insurance companies.

Top 10 Most Popular Surgical Technologist Schools

1. Newbridge College, Santa Ana (Santa Ana, California)
2. Career Colleges of America, South Gate (South Gate, California)
3. Altierus Career College (Multiple Campus Locations)
4. Ponce Paramedical College Inc (Ponce, Puerto Rico)
5. High Tech Institute (Multiple Campus Locations)
6. Community Care College (Tulsa, Oklahoma)
7. Glendale Career College (Glendale, California)
8. The Bryman School of Arizona (Phoenix, Arizona)
9. Sanford-Brown Institute and College (Multiple Campus Locations)
10. CHI Institute (Multiple Campus Locations)

See All Surgical Technologist Schools

Online School: Medical Careers Institute - Online School

Employment and Job Outlook for Surgical Technologists

Number of People in Profession

91,250

Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow much faster than average (increase 20% or more).

Surgical technologists hold about 91,500 jobs and about 71 percent of them are in hospitals. Other jobs are located in outpatient care centers, physician’s or dentist’s offices that perform outpatient surgery and ambulatory surgical centers. A small number of surgical technologists are hired by surgeons who have specialized surgical teams.

Surgical technologists should expect an employment growth of 25 percent due to the increased volume of surgeries. As the population expands and ages, the number of surgical procedures is expected to rise, which creates a demand for surgical technologists. Technological advances also create a demand for surgical technologists, as it permits them to help perform a number of new surgical procedures.

As hospitals continue to replace nurses with surgical technologists in order to reduce costs, they will continue to be the top employers for this career. However, much faster growth is projected in physician’s offices and outpatient care centers.

Surgical technologists who are certified and are willing to relocate will enjoy the best job prospects.

Earnings and Salary for Surgical Technologists

Wage-and-salary surgical technologists have a median annual wage of $39,400. The highest 10 percent earn more than $55,620, while the lowest 10 percent earn $27,910. The middle 50 percent earn between $33,090 and $47,310. The median annual wages for top employing industries for surgical technologists are:

Specialty (except psychiatric and substance abuse) hospitals: $40,880
Outpatient care centers: $39,660
General medical and surgical hospitals: $38,640
Offices of physicians: $3,520
Offices of dentists: $36,380

Surgical technologists wages vary depending on their education and experience, the working hours, the economy of their region and the responsibilities of the position. Common benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, medical, health vision and life insurance, and a retirement program. A small number of employers offer child care benefits and tuition reimbursement.

Annual Salary for Surgical Technologists

On average, Surgical Technologists earn $39,400 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $27,910/yr $33,090/yr $47,310/yr $55,620/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook