What To Know About Being a Surgical Technician

Surgical technicians help keep operating rooms safe and running smoothly. Learn what it takes to be a tech and what salary these workers typically make.

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by Lyss Welding

Published on February 3, 2022 · Updated on May 13, 2022

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What To Know About Being a Surgical Technician


Every year, tens of millions of Americans undergo surgery, from emergency to elective procedures. Each operation relies on a team of skilled medical professionals to ensure everything goes according to plan and patients can recover safely.

Surgical technicians, also called surgical technologists or operating room (OR) technicians, serve a crucial role on surgical teams. Their job takes strong attention to detail, a commitment to best practices and processes, and an appreciation for lifelong learning. If you can handle the stress and responsibilities of this position, working as a surgical technician can provide an excellent opportunity to break into the medical field with a certificate or associate degree.

What Does a Surgical Technician Do?

Surgical technicians work in hospitals, care centers, and physicians' offices to assist medical teams during surgeries. They work to prevent mishaps and protect patient safety before, during, and after surgery.

Before a surgery starts, surgical technicians' job responsibilities include:

During operation, surgical technicians may hand tools to surgeons and assistants. Like everyone in the room, they monitor the OR for risk or anything that might lead to infection.

After surgery, surgical technicians take inventory of the OR and dispose of or sterilize used equipment.

What Training Does a Surgical Technician Need?

Aspiring surgical technicians need to build knowledge and skills related to human anatomy, bacterial infection, and sterile processing. You can gain the necessary training to become a surgical technician in a one-year certificate or two-year associate degree program. Both include relevant coursework as well as a clinical internship or practicum.

Many states require surgical technicians to be certified. Even if your state does not require surgical technicians to be certified, some employers might prefer it.

To become a certified surgical technologist (CST), you must:

What Is the Career Outlook for Surgical Technicians?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for surgical technologists will grow 9% percent from 2020-2030. That's slightly higher than the projected growth rate for all occupations (8%).

Currently, there's a need for all healthcare professionals in the wake of COVID-19. And this demand isn't likely to fade. The U.S. population is aging: The Census Bureau projects that the 65-and-older population will grow from around 15% of the population (in 2016) to 25% of the population in 2060. As people live longer, they may have more surgical procedures to improve or maintain their health.

What Is a Surgical Technician's Salary Potential?

In 2020, according to the BLS, surgical technologists earned median annual wages of $49,710 — about $8,000 more than the median annual wages for all workers. Salary also varies widely for surgical techs. Top-earning techs made more than $73,110 a year, while earners in the bottom 10% earned less than $34,120.

Surgical technician salaries tend to change with a worker's years of experience. Entry-level surgical technicians reported average salaries of about $39,430 on Payscale, as of January 2022. In contrast, experienced surgical technicians with 10-19 years on the job reported making roughly $49,240 annually. Certification also makes a difference: Experienced CSTs made almost $52,700 on average.

Your pay as a surgical technician may also depend on your industry and where in the country you work. According to the BLS, surgical technologists at colleges and universities made more than those working in hospitals, earning $57,590 on average. However, just 0.6% of surgical technologists work in these settings. In 2020, the top paying states for surgical technologists were Alaska, Nevada, and California.

Frequently Asked Questions About Surgical Technicians

Is a surgical technician a good career? true

Being a surgical technician can be fulfilling for people who excel at organization and preparedness, want to learn about new surgical technology and sanitation procedures, and can handle the pressure of being in the OR.

Surgical technician salaries tend to be higher than the median salary for all occupations in the U.S. Additionally, surgical technicians can enter the medical field without needing a four-year degree. Surgical techs may advance their careers by becoming certified or pursuing continuing education to specialize in a field, such as organ transplantation or OB/GYN.

Who makes more: nurses or surgical technicians? true

Some nurses –—including registered nurses and nurse practitioners –—make significantly more than surgical technicians. Registered nurses made median annual wages of $75,330 in 2020, according to the BLS.

However, licensed practical nurses make about the same as surgical technicians. Licensed practical nurses earned median annual wages of $48,820 in 2020. Both licensed practical nurses and surgical technicians require at least a certificate and sometimes an associate degree to begin working. Licensed practical nurses also must pass a state-approved exam.

Do surgical technicians do stitches? true

A surgical technician may help remove or cut surgical stitches under the supervision of a physician, but they do not apply stitches. Physicians perform surgical stitches, also called sutures.

Feature Image: ER Productions Limited / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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