What Does a Surgical Technologist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A day in the life of a surgical technologist: Sterilize equipment and stock up any necessary supplies, prepare the operating room for upcoming surgeries, order and take inventory of supplies and maintain files and records of procedures, sterilize equipment and hand surgeons instruments upon their request

The Balance / Marina Li

A surgical technologist assists surgeons, anesthesiologists, registered nurses, and other members of an operating room team. Surgical technologists, who may also be called surgical or operating room technicians or scrub techs, prepare the operating room before the surgery takes place. They also prepare patients for their surgery, arrange medical equipment, and assist doctors during surgical procedures.

The surgical technologist position is sometimes confused with the surgical assistant role. A surgical assistant is another member of the operating room team. While a surgical technologist's tasks are usually limited to preparing operating rooms and equipment, and handing instruments to surgeons, the surgical assistant provides hands-on assistance to a surgeon during an operation.

A surgical assistant might help control a patient's bleeding, apply sutures and use suctioning equipment. Some surgical technologists become surgical assistants after receiving supplemental on-the-job training. To become a surgical assistant, you can also complete a formal training program.

Surgical Technologist Duties & Responsibilities

As part of a day's regular duties and tasks, surgical technicians may perform some or all of the following:

  • Prepare the operating room for upcoming surgeries
  • Sterilize equipment and stock up any necessary supplies
  • Prepare patients for their procedures
  • Sterilize equipment and hands surgeons instruments upon their request.
  • Order and take inventory of supplies, and maintain files and records of procedures

Surgical Technologist Salary

A surgical technologist's salary varies based on the area of expertise, level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors.

  • Median Annual Salary: $47,300 ($22.74 /hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $69,170 ($33.25/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $32,870 ($15.8/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training & Certification

To work in this field, you must complete certain educational requirements and an optional certification:

  • Education: You'll need an associate degree, diploma or certificate in surgical technology. Some vocational schools, colleges, and hospitals offer this training that can last from several months to two years. Programs consist of a combination of classroom education and clinical training. The Association of Surgical Technologists (AST), a widely recognized professional association, believes the associate degree is the preferred level of entry into the profession.
  • Certification: You can becomecertified as a surgical technologist by first completing an educational program and then passing an exam. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) and the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) both offer certification. The NBSTA requires completion of a surgical technology program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). You can search for an accredited surgical technology program on the CAAHEP website (CAAHEP Accredited Program Search). The NCCT requires that one completes a program approved by that organization. Few states have laws regulating this occupation, but the Association of Surgical Technologists has been lobbying forlicensure of surgical technologists.

Surgical Technologist Skills & Competencies

In addition to the hard skills you will acquire through formal training, you will also need the following soft skills to succeed in this field:

  • Active Listening: This ability allows you to understand instructions from surgeons and other members of the operating room team.
  • Attention to Detail: You need the capacity to notice even the smallest details, and you must be attentive to your work, often for extended periods of time.
  • Coordination: You must be able to collaborate with other members of your team.
  • Problem Solving: You will need to be able to identify and solve problems.
  • Critical Thinking: You must be able to weigh your options and choose the best one when you are trying to solve a problem or make a decision.
  • Stress management and physical stamina: You should be able to stand for long periods of time and be able to provide a high level of care, even when under pressure.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for this occupation is excellent. Employment is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2026. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies it a "Bright Outlook" occupation.

According to the BLS, employment for surgical technologists is expected to grow by 12% over the next decade relative to other occupations. The growth is driven by technological developments that are increasing the number of surgeries performed, as well as aging baby boomers in need of surgeries. This growth rate compares to the projected 7% average growth for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

Work Environment

Most jobs were in hospitals, but some were in outpatient surgery centers. Many people might find the operating room to be an unpleasant place. You could be exposed to communicable diseases and objectionable sights and smells there.

Work Schedule

It is a physically demanding job. Expect to spend long hours on your feet. You will have to move patients and equipment. Your work hours could include nights, weekends and holidays. Shifts often last longer than eight hours.

How to Get the Job


Check for job openings and other resources available in your school's career center.


Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also visit the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTS), set up a profile and visit their job center.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in a surgical technologist career also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:

  • Cardiovascular Technologist: $54,330
  • Ultrasound Technician: $67,530
  • Licensed Practical Nurse: $42,490

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018