Known as the “unsung heroes of the operating room,” surgical techs play a critical role in many life-saving surgeries every day. If you’re interested in working in the OR, but not sure that the life of a surgeon is right for you, then becoming a surgical technologist (ST) might be the perfect career match.
What is the average salary for a surgical technologist?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for surgical technologists in 2020 was $51,510 per year ($24.77 per hour), with the top 10 percent earning more than $73,100.
|State||Per hour||Per year|
|District of Columbia||$29.63||$61,620|
|State||Per hour||Per year|
All salary data courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What is the job outlook for surgical technologists?
The BLS projects 9 percent employment growth for STs through 2030, which equates to more than 9,000 new jobs. Employment growth will be driven by advancements in medical technology, which have continued to make surgery safer and more common.
Additionally, the aging baby boomer population is expected to increase demand for a wide range of healthcare services, including operations. Individuals are remaining active later in life and may need surgeries to increase mobility. Hip and knee replacements, for example, are common surgeries among older individuals.
Surgical technologists work alongside surgeons and nurses to ensure that surgical procedures run smoothly. Surgical techs are involved in every aspect of an operation and can even assist the surgeon during certain parts of a procedure.
During a typical day, a surgical tech will:
- Set up the operating room. STs are in charge of preparing all the needed supplies and instruments for an operation. They must memorize each surgical procedure so that they know what tools are needed and in what order the surgeon will need them.
- Sterilize surgical equipment. A large part of the ST’s job is to sterilize all the equipment in the operating room, set up sterile drapes, and to make sure that the surgeon and other staff members follow proper aseptic technique. This minimizes the risk of infection after a procedure and ensures a smooth recovery for the patient.
- Prepare the patient. Some STs are called “circulating technologists” and it’s their job to interview and debrief the patient before the procedure. During the surgery, they assist with anesthesia and open packages for other team members to maintain the sterile field.
- Assist during the surgery. During the procedure, STs assist the surgeon by passing instruments, holding retractors and cutting sutures. A circulating ST will keep a written account of the surgical procedure and answer the surgeon’s questions about the patient during the surgery. An experienced ST might also be able to assist with wound closure at the end of a procedure.
- Clean up and prepare for the next procedure. Once the procedure is over, the ST cleans the room and all the equipment and begins preparing for the next operation.
Most surgical techs work on operating room teams in hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities. Some STs are in charge of managing central supply departments in hospitals, or they might take positions with insurance companies, sterile supply services, and operating equipment firms.
What skills do I need to be a surgical technologist?
Critical thinking and communication are crucial for success in the operating room. The operating room team relies on the ST, in part, to ensure positive outcomes for the patient.
“The two most important skills for any ST to demonstrate are the ability to remain calm under pressure and to anticipate the surgeon’s needs before he or she even knows what’s next,” says Stephanie Allen, a surgical technologist.
It’s important to know that the ST is not just passing instruments, continues Allen. The ST is essentially the surgeon’s right hand. They must know everything about a surgical procedure and the patient in order to provide adequate support.
How do I become a surgical technologist?
An associate degree in surgical technology is required for entry-level surgical tech positions. After completing an associate degree program, STs must take the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) examination offered by The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting.
Herzing University offers an accredited surgical technologist degree program that prepares you for entry-level positions in the operating room. You will also be eligible to take the CST examination after graduation.
How long does it take to become a surgical technologist?
You can graduate from Herzing’s surgical technologist program in as little as 20 months. Entry-level job titles for surgical technologist graduates include:
- Surgical technologist
- Lead surgical technologist
- Travel surgical technologist
- Scrub tech
- Material manager
With experience and additional education or training, STs can advance by specializing in a particular area, such as neurosurgery or open-heart surgery.
“The greatest advice that I have for students that are interested in surgical technology is to have fun and be open to learning every day,” says Allen. “This is such a great career with so many growth opportunities.”
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2020. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.
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