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Surgical Technician Career Overview

Nov 4, 2022
Amanda Lundberg, RN, BSN

What is a Surgical Technician?

A surgical technician is a medical professional who is part of an operating room medical team. A profession that originally resulted from the lack of healthcare personnel available to assist with surgeries during WWII, surgical technicians are now a vital part of the healthcare system.

Surgical technicians are specialists in preparing, organizing, counting, and disposal of surgical instruments. They will often support the doctors and nurses by handing over tools during a surgical procedure. Surgical technicians ensure the operating room is sterile, or free from bacteria and microorganisms. This job is paramount to decreasing the risk of infection post-surgery. Any lapse in detail can lead to devastating complications and even death. 

Although most people use technician and technologist interchangeably, there is a slight difference. A technician typically refers to someone who has been taught the skills on the job or passed a training course. In contrast, a technologist usually has earned a degree from an accredited program. Both titles are frequently shortened and referred to simultaneously as “surgical tech.” 

What Does a Surgical Technician Do?

A surgical tech is responsible for the sterility and organization of an operating room. They ensure the operation goes smoothly and safely. A seasoned surgical tech will anticipate the needs of the surgeon before they even need to ask. 

Typically, surgical techs start their day off by reviewing the operation schedule and noting any special circumstances. They will prepare the operating room by setting up surgical instruments and checking the function of the equipment. Surgical techs can also prepare patients for surgery by discussing what to anticipate. 

During the surgery, surgical techs are responsible for maintaining the sterile environment and identifying any breaks in the sterile field. Following the procedure, surgical techs will clean the operating room and properly dispose of biohazard materials. It is a surgical tech’s vital responsibility to ensure all the equipment that was used is accounted for. 

What Skills Does a Surgical Technician Need?

The core skills a surgical tech needs revolves around assisting the surgeon and keeping the operating room sterile and organized. It’s essential to become familiar with the different types of surgeries to prepare the room properly. Some of the necessary skills for surgical techs are:

  • Learning the names of surgical tools and equipment
  • The preferences of each surgeon
  • How to prepare and maintain a sterile field
  • Anticipating patient and surgeon needs
  • An awareness of the different types of surgeries and their equipment needs
  • Becoming an expert in aseptic techniques

Work Settings For Surgical Technicians

Surgical techs work in an operating room. However, that's not only in a hospital anymore. A growing number of surgical procedures are occurring in surgical centers, outpatient clinics, and even doctor’s offices. Surgical techs can be employed in any of these locations. If there is an operating room, a surgical tech will be needed. Sometimes, surgical techs will focus on certain types of surgeries, becoming experts in one type of surgery or body location.  

Common Cases Surgical Technicians Encounter 

Surgical techs may be involved in emergent or routine surgeries. From an urgent cesarean section to a routine tonsillectomy, surgical techs may experience a broad range of procedures. Depending on their interests, a surgical tech can specialize in:

  • General surgery
  • Plastic surgery
  • Cardiac procedures
  • Neurosurgery
  • Pediatric surgery
  • Orthopedic procedures

Education Requirements & Helpful Certifications

Surgical technicians may learn their skills from on-the-job training. This route does not require any formal education. At this time, there is no national registry of surgical techs and no standard of certifications from state to state. Some states do not require any formal training or certifications. 

However, the Association of Surgical Technologists is attempting to make all states require certification and satisfy baseline education requirements to work as a surgical tech. This goal is to maintain a standard of care for surgical techs, requiring anatomy and physiology classes, as well as proper sterile standards. As with any career, completing formal education and training is recommended to make yourself even more marketable to potential employers. 

How to Become a Surgical Technician

A non-certified surgical tech can learn the necessary skills in a few months from peers or a surgeon, however, a professional surgical tech is encouraged to complete the following steps:

  1. Graduate from an accredited surgical technology program 
  2. Obtain the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting 
  3. Maintain the CST credential by completing mandatory continuing education hours 

How to Advance Your Career as a Surgical Technician

Unfortunately, being a surgical technician is a career that has marginal room for professional upward mobility. Apart from becoming a certified surgical technologist and working up to a lead surgical tech position, it doesn't offer any specialized certifications or registrations. However, some surgical techs further their career in healthcare using their years of direct patient experience as an advantage. 

Average Salary For Surgical Technicians

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgical technologists earn a national median salary of $48,530 per year, which breaks down to $23.32 per hour. California and Alaska pay surgical techs the highest wage rate of $65,000 to $68,000 a year, while Mississippi and West Virginia are the lowest-paying states at around $40,000 a year. Interestingly, surgical techs can make nearly $10,000 a year more working in an outpatient facility compared to a hospital. 

The Pros of Being a Surgical Technician

  • No shortage of jobs available 
  • A good starting salary with little to no formal training requirements 
  • A fast-track career to be involved in surgical procedures 
  • Ability to specialize in an area of interest

The Cons of Being a Surgical Technician

  • You will need to be standing on your feet for hours at a time, working long shifts
  • The job can become repetitive- doing the same thing over and over
  • Little room for career advancement

Specialty Organizations & Communities

Ideal Personality Traits

  • Attention to detail
  • Flexible with changing environments 
  • Organized
  • Calm during stressful situations
  • Interest in microbiology 
  • Great communication skills
  • Compassion for patients 
  • Team-player
  • Comfortable around blood and needles 

Final Thoughts

Surgical technicians are seeing no shortage of job growth in the future. With the aging population, an increase in surgical procedures are being performed, especially in higher-paying outpatient surgical clinics. A surgical tech can be earning a competitive wage with relatively short on-the-job training or within 2 years of formal education. This high-responsibility career allows individuals to be pivotal surgical team members resulting in a rewarding life-long career. 

If you are interested in becoming a travel surgical tech, you are in luck! Trusted will soon be adding allied health jobs. With the quality positions you have come to know, Trusted finds the leading opportunities throughout the U.S., offering support and assistance each step of the way.