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Surgical Technology Career

Career Description

A Surgical Technologist assists in surgical operations under the supervision of surgeons, registered nurses, or other surgical personnel.

Common Work Tasks

  • Help prepare the operating room by setting up surgical instruments and equipment, sterile drapes, and sterile solutions
  • Assemble both sterile and non-sterile equipment,  as well as check and adjust it to ensure it is working properly
  • Get patients ready for surgery by washing,  shaving, and disinfecting incision sites
  • Transport patients to the operating room, help position them on the operating table, and cover them with sterile surgical drapes
  • Observe patients’ vital signs, check charts, and help the surgical team put on sterile gowns and gloves
  • Pass instruments and other sterile supplies to surgeons and surgeon assistants
  • Hold retractors, cut sutures, and help count sponges, needles, supplies, and instruments
  • Help prepare, care for, and dispose of specimens taken for laboratory analysis and help apply dressings
  • Operate sterilizers, lights, or suction machines, and help operate diagnostic equipment
  • Help transfer patients to the recovery room and clean and restock the operating room

Other Job Titles

Surgical Technologists are also known by other titles,  including:

  • Scrubs
  • Surgical Technicians
  • Operating Room Technicians
  • OR Nurse

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
Surgical technologists receive their training in formal programs offered by community and junior colleges, vocational schools, universities, hospitals, and the military. Programs last from 9 to 24 months and lead to a certificate, diploma,  or associate degree. High school graduation normally is required for admission.  Recommended high school courses include health, biology, chemistry, and mathematics.

Certification and Licensure
Most employers prefer to hire certified technologists. Technologists may obtain voluntary professional certification from the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist by graduating from a CAAHEP-accredited program and passing a national certification examination. They may then use the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) designation. Continuing education or reexamination is required to maintain certification, which must be renewed every 4 years.

Certification also may be obtained from the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). To qualify to take the exam, candidates follow one of three paths: complete an accredited training program; undergo a 2-year hospital on-the-job training program; or acquire 7 years of experience working in the field. After passing the exam,  individuals may use the designation Tech in Surgery-Certified, TS-C (NCCT).  This certification must be renewed every 5 years through either continuing education or reexamination.

  Surgical technologists need manual dexterity to handle instruments quickly. They also must be conscientious, orderly, and emotionally stable to handle the demands of the operating room environment. Technologists must respond quickly and must be familiar with operating procedures in order to have instruments ready for surgeons without having to be told. They are expected to keep abreast of new developments in the field.


The median annual salary for a Surgical Technologist is $38,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $53,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $27,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of surgical technologists are:

  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals - $38,430
  • Offices of Physicians - $40,860
  • Outpatient Care Centers - $39,480
  • Offices of Dentists - $35,990
  • Employment Services  - $45,210

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  24%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 21,000
  • Employment 2006 : 86,000
  • Employment 2016:  107,000
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