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All About Surgical Tech Salary and Career Opportunities

surgical tech jobs scrub techs operating room

Choosing a career shouldn’t be brain surgery. Okay, sometimes it is brain surgery, but an interest in this area doesn’t have to mean a decade of med school to become a surgeon. Surgical tech jobs are a booming area in allied healthcare careers without the years of study, debt load, and responsibility of being a surgeon. Furthermore, surgical tech salary and job prospects are both on the rise.

If the world of surgery excites you, but performing open-heart surgery yourself doesn’t appeal to you, surgical technology is a great career option for you to check out.

Combine That with a Stable Income

The only part of the job that doesn’t  offer a challenge is the salary: surgical techs earn a solid, stable income. Surgical technologists, also known as operating room technicians and scrub techs, work alongside surgeons and nurses in the operating room.

They have an exciting job with salaries above the US median (an average of over $20 per hour), a great job outlook over the next decade, and progressive job duties in their first years of work.

Best of all, healthcare training programs for surgical techs can take as little as 9 months. If you’re ready to get right into a career in allied healthcare, read on.

What Does a Surgical Tech Do?
surgical tech scrub tech sterilizing tools operating room

If you’re looking for a job where you’re paid to sit bored at a desk all day, keep looking. Surgical technology is a career for those who can’t stand sitting around and don’t mind being on their feet all day.

The main surgical tech duties include preparing the operating room before surgery, as well as assembling tools and equipment for the surgeon. They may be required to prepare patients for surgery by transporting them to and from the operating room, washing and disinfecting the areas of incision, and positioning them on the operating table.

During an operation, the surgical tech is a highly valuable team member, passing tools to the surgeon and senior assistants as needed. This isn’t for the faint-hearted; during surgery, you might also be required to hold organs in place or operate robotic equipment. After the operation, you may have to bandage the patient’s incision site or deal with specimens for analysis.

The majority of surgical techs (70%) work in hospitals. Others may work in clinics, outpatient surgical centers, doctors’ offices and other locations. As a surgical tech, you’ll be at the surgeon’s side, helping to perform everything from routine operations to life-saving surgeries. Many surgical techs work in emergency rooms, allowing them to be a part of the excitement of an emergency surgery.

What Is a Typical Surgical Tech Salary?

The median annual pay for a surgical tech in 2016 was $45,160, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In New Jersey surgical tech salaries are even higher: the average surgical technologist in the state earned $50,000 in 2016.

Eighty percent of surgical techs earn between $31,000 and $62,000; the top 10% of earners made more than $64,000.

The median wage is $21.70 per hour. Given the nature of the work – which sometimes requires long hours or being on call – overtime may also be an option.

With the projected growth in this occupation, you can expect your salary to continue growing over time. Note that surgical tech pay may vary between states.

What Are the Prospects for Surgical Tech Jobs?
surgical tech job growth career opportunities

With continuing advances in surgical technology and a rising demand for surgery, the surgical tech job outlook is great

The projected job growth over the next decade is 15%, much faster than the American average. Continued growth and developments in specialized branches of medicine also mean there could be a rising demand for surgeries in specialized areas.

As baby boomers hit retirement age, demand for surgery is also likely to rise, since seniors tend to require more operations. The new generation of seniors is also more likely to actually undergo those operations: your grandpa might have grumbled that there was no way he’d ever let those doctors touch him, but your mom may jump at the chance for knee surgery that will improve her quality of life.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that job prospects are best for those who have completed formal surgical tech education programs and certification. As in other careers, the more education you have, the better your job prospects and salary prospects are.

California and Texas lead the nation with the largest numbers of surgical techs employed, while New York follows closely behind.

How Do You Become a Surgical Tech?

Surgical technologist training programs can range from less than a year, up to two years. You might graduate with a certificate, or, for two-year programs, an associate degree. Surgical tech programs require a high school diploma or GED for entry. Program tuition costs can range from $6,000 to $25,000 or more. Some programs have an option for evening courses, but those generally take longer to complete.

Some states formally regulate the profession, requiring surgical techs to obtain a nationally recognized certification and complete continuing education throughout their career. These include Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Recognized certifications in the US include the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential from The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting and the Tech in Surgery – Certified (TS-C) credential from the National Center for Competency Testing.

What Does a Surgical Tech Education Typically Entail?

As a student, your program should consist of a mix of classroom instruction and clinical training. Classroom education normally includes classes on anatomy, biology, medical terminology and pharmacology. Your program won’t be sitting all day at a desk, though. For example, some students spend nearly half their program in a clinical internship.

Education includes lab training and mock operations, as well as hands-on practice with the cleaning and use of surgical instruments. Before they complete their education, surgical techs in training will participate in supervised surgical procedures.

For tech lovers, some surgical tech programs may also include training in robotic surgical procedures. For techs who are looking to specialize, this is an area that promises incredible growth in the coming years.

What’s Great About Being a Certified Surgical Technologist?

surgical technologist scrub tech operating room team work

Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet / Flickr / CC BY-SA

You’ll rarely get bored with this job. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a surgical tech to find an area they love working in. Some may love orthopedics and hate general surgery, while others may thrive in emergency operating rooms.

Surgery encompasses many different areas. You can choose from orthopedic, cardiac, general, gynecologic, pediatric surgery, neurosurgery, organ transplantation, and even plastic surgery. Some surgical techs specialize, while others prefer the variety of working in multiple areas.

Being certified as a surgical tech means taking continuing education courses to develop existing or new skills, in order to keep your certification current. If you’re interested in taking your career further, you might advance to being a surgical assistant, which can happen after on-the-job training or additional education. Advancement to administration, including managing surgical teams, is another possibility.

Some surgical tech jobs are scheduled on rotation, meaning you may spend some shift dealing with the exhilaration of working in the ER, while other days, you might assist during a senior citizen’s hip replacement. On-call work schedules could mean going from being asleep in bed to the operating room in a split second, in the case of a major emergency. For some surgical techs, it’s the most thrilling part of their job.

Another bonus to being a surgical tech is that surgeries occur in every hospital in every part of the country. Therefore, if you’re interested in relocating or may need to in the future, you’ll have flexibility.

If you’re looking for more reasons, check out our article on 24 Awesome Reasons to Become a Surgical Tech.

The Skills Every Successful Surgical Tech Needs

This is a job for an adrenaline junkie, the kind of active person who loves being on their feet. We probably don’t need to say this, but those who are afraid of blood and other bodily fluids need not apply. When your job duties could include holding a stranger’s organs in place, being intimately familiar with each and every function of the human body is a necessity.

Your people skills will be crucial, as you’ll be interacting with doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff,  as well as with patients from all walks of life. Wherever you’re hired, you’re likely to work with several different surgeons, each of whom has their own preferences during surgeries. Surgical techs love helping people – some are even inspired off the job.

Having an interest in medical technology helps. You’ll need to keep on top of the latest surgical technology for your job and may be responsible for operating robotic surgical equipment.

Surgical techs need to pay sharp attention to detail, as they keep an army of surgical tools and equipment organized, all while paying attention to surgeons’ or nurses’ orders, the patient’s vital signs, keeping operating room and equipment sterile, and potentially collecting samples for analysis. Being able to anticipate the surgeon’s next move is key.

Are You Ready to Become a Surgical Tech?

Being a surgical tech isn’t easy. After all, it can be brain surgery. But for America’s 100,000 surgical techs, it’s a chance to make a difference every day. If being part of the surgical team and saving lives sounds thrilling, then you’re ready to take the next step in becoming a surgical tech.

And the take-home pay? The opportunity to earn a solid middle-class income is a great incentive for many surgical techs. The adrenaline rush is just an added bonus.

Now that you know more about surgical tech salary and the basics of this exciting allied healthcare career, check out your surgical technologist program options.

  • Jamie Cox

    Hi! I have applied at the surgical tech program at my college and I will be interviewing in early June and will be notified by early July if I have been accepted! I was curious to know some of the questions I could be expecting to hear during the interview and the best answers I could possibly give? Also, I am interested in researching a specialty to tell the interviewers I would like to specialize in. I am very interested in pediatrics, oncology, and plastics. I was wondering if there is anyone that can tell me if you have any feed back on any of these specialties? Any statistics on the most enjoyable one and the ones in highest demand? I am so excited to start if (when) I get accepted! There are so many questions I want to have the answers to but in due time!

    Thanks for any replies!

  • Amber

    Can anyone tell me what their starting pay was? And does you place if employment pay you for you certification? Thanks!

    • Dee

      I just finished my program and passed my certification which I had to pay for myself. I am starting my new job in two weeks. The starting pay is low in my eyes. 16.77$ an hour. I live right outside of Chicago. The closer to the city you go tho the more you make around here. My classsmate working in the city makes 20$ not certified. Hope that helps !

  • Matt

    Does anyone know if their is any kind of higher education for someone who gets an associates in surgical technology?

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