Surgical technicians go by a variety of names, including surgical technologist, operating room technician and scrub tech. Diploma, certificate or associate’s degree programs are offered by vocational schools and community colleges to train these allied health professionals. Costs vary by institution and length of program.
Surgical techs support operating room procedures before, during and after surgery to facilitate professional teamwork and patient safety. In a typical day, a surgical tech is responsible for the following:
- Assembling, transporting and retrieving surgical equipment
- Collaborating with doctors and nurses as directed
- Conducting pre- and post-surgery patient care
- Inspecting, maintaining and decontaminating surgical equipment
- Keeping inventory records up-to-date
- Setting up and maintaining the surgical field
Surgical techs must be able to anticipate which instruments and devices will be used during a procedure so they can be handed to the surgeon without losing any time.
There are more than 500 surgical tech programs offered in schools across the United States. Surgical tech training costs vary by program. At Aims Community College in Greeley, Colorado, for example, in-state students pay $2,538 a year in tuition plus fees to earn a two-year associate’s degree. Out-of-state students pay $10,206 for tuition and fees. Books, supplies, living expenses and transportation costs are extra.
As another example, the surgical tech school fees at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Massachusetts, is $202 per credit hour for in-state students and $408 per credit hour for out-of-state students. The surgical tech program culminates in a certificate after the completion of 45 credit hours, which typically takes students three semesters.
Surgical tech school requirements start with a high school diploma or general education diploma (GED) Coursework includes medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, medical ethics, and surgical and operating room procedures. Most programs require that you pass a physical examination and can demonstrate up-to-date vaccinations. Some surgical tech school requirements also include a background check.
Because of the hands-on nature of the training, a certificate or degree in surgical technology cannot be earned wholly online. Depending on your program, you may be able to take some general education courses and non-clinical electives online.
The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting offers credentialing by exam. Although the designation of Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) is not required by law to work in an operating room in any state, the credential can be valuable in the job market. Obtaining certification shows that you are committed to the profession and that you have attained an above-average level of knowledge and skills. Becoming a CST may enhance your employment and salary opportunities.
Most surgical techs work in hospitals and medical centers. In addition to educational credentials, surgical techs need good vision and hearing and strong interpersonal and communications skills. Surgical techs need to be able to take direction and work effectively as part of a team. Surgical techs spend most of their time standing, so physical stamina is another necessary attribute.
Of the surgical techs currently employed, 77.8 percent are female. Both men and women in the profession reported a high level of job satisfaction.
Salary and Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks figures on civilian occupations. According to 2018 data, the median pay for surgical techs was $47,300 per year or $22.74 per hour. Median pay means that half in the profession earned more, while half earned less.
A surgical tech salary varies depending on a number of factors, including employer and geographic location. The highest average salaries for surgical techs reported to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics were from Nevada, California, the District of Columbia, Alaska and Washington. Salaries can vary widely within the state.
Experience also counts when it comes to surgical tech salary. Surgical techs tend to earn more as they gain experience. According to the jobs’ website PayScale, surgical techs with 20-plus years of experience earn, on average, 34 percent more than those in entry-level positions.
The BLS predicts that job growth will be about 12 percent for surgical techs through 2026, a rate considered faster than average when compared to all other jobs. Growing population numbers, as well as the medical advances that have improved the safety of surgical procedures, make it likely that the demand for surgical techs will remain strong.