Career Facts

Investigate MORE INFO on all professions that sound interesting. Take your time. Don't skip a step.

Job Outlook: 9% (Faster than average)

  1. Is WHAT YOU DO enjoyable?
  2. Does the WORK ENVIRONMENT feel comfortable?
  3. Are you ok with THE REQUIREMENTS?
  4. Is the PAY ENOUGH?
  5. Is the JOB OUTLOOK positive- more than 7%?
  6. Still interested? WATCH THE VIDEO
  7. RELATED OCCUPATIONS Click here to view similar jobs.
FIND A JOB and more.

What Surgical Assistants and Technologists Do About this section

Surgical technologists
Surgical technologists may transport patients to surgery.

Surgical assistants and technologists help with surgical operations. Surgical assistants, also called surgical first assistants, help surgeons with tasks such as making incisions, placing clamps, and closing surgical sites. Surgical technologists, also called operating room technicians, prepare operating rooms, arrange equipment, and help doctors and first assistants during surgeries.

Duties

Surgical technologists typically do the following:

  • Prepare operating rooms for surgery
  • Sterilize equipment and make sure that there are adequate supplies for surgery
  • Ready patients for surgery, such as by washing and disinfecting incision sites
  • Help surgeons during surgery by passing them instruments and other sterile supplies
  • Count supplies, such as surgical instruments, to ensure that no foreign objects are retained in patients
  • Maintain a sterile environment to prevent patient infection

Before an operation, surgical technologists prepare the operating room by setting up surgical instruments and equipment. They prepare sterile solutions and medications used in surgery and check that all surgical equipment is working properly. Surgical technologists also bring patients to the operating room and get them ready for surgery by positioning them on the table, covering them with sterile drapes, and washing and disinfecting incision sites. And they help the surgical team put on sterile gowns.

During an operation, surgical technologists pass the sterile instruments and supplies to surgeons and first assistants. They might hold retractors, hold internal organs in place during the procedure, or set up robotic surgical equipment. Technologists also may handle specimens taken for laboratory analysis.

After the operation is complete, surgical technologists may apply bandages and other dressings to the incision site. They may also transfer patients to recovery rooms and restock operating rooms after a procedure.

Surgical assistants have a hands-on role, directly assisting surgeons during a procedure. For example, they may help to suction the incision site or suture a wound.

Surgical assistants and technologists work as members of a healthcare team alongside physicians and surgeons, registered nurses, and other healthcare workers.

Work Environment About this section

Surgical technologists
Surgical technologists are trained to maintain the sterile field, preventing the risk of infection during surgery.

Surgical assistants held about 18,000 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of surgical assistants were as follows:

General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and private 41%
Offices of physicians 25
Offices of dentists 20
Outpatient care centers 3
Offices of other health practitioners 2

Surgical technologists held about 110,700 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of surgical technologists were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 72%
Offices of physicians 11
Outpatient care centers 11
Offices of dentists 2
Administrative and support services 1

Ambulatory surgical centers are included in outpatient care centers.

Surgical assistants and technologists wear scrubs and sterile gowns, gloves, caps, and masks while they are in the operating room. Their work may be physically demanding, requiring them to be on their feet for long periods. Surgical technologists also may need to help move patients or lift heavy trays of medical supplies. At times, they may be exposed to communicable diseases and unpleasant sights, odors, and materials.

Work Schedules

Most surgical assistants and technologists work full time. Surgical assistants and technologists employed in hospitals may work or be on call during nights, weekends, and holidays. They may also be required to work shifts lasting longer than 8 hours.

How to Become a Surgical Assistant or Technologist About this section

Surgical technologists
Surgical assistants and technologists work as members of a healthcare team alongside physicians and surgeons, registered nurses, and other healthcare workers.

Surgical assistants and technologists typically need a certificate or an associate’s degree. Employers may require or prefer that workers have certification. Some states regulate these workers.

Education

Surgical assistants and technologists typically need a certificate or associate’s degree from an accredited program. Many community colleges and vocational schools, as well as some universities and hospitals, offer accredited surgical technology or surgical assisting programs.

Surgical assistants may complete a formal education program in surgical assisting. Others may work as surgical technologists and receive additional on-the-job training to become first assistants.

Surgical technology education includes courses such as anatomy, microbiology, and physiology. These workers also learn about the care and safety of patients, sterilization techniques, how to set up technical or robotic equipment, and preventing and controlling infections. In addition to classroom study, students gain hands-on experience in supervised clinical settings.

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredits programs in surgical technology and surgical assisting.

Important Qualities

Communication. To prevent infections or other complications, surgical assistants and technologists must relay any issues that arise during surgery to the other members of the healthcare team.

Detail oriented. Surgical assistants and technologists must pay close attention to their work. For example, surgical technologists need to provide the correct sterile equipment for surgeons during an operation.

Dexterity. Surgical assistants and technologists should be comfortable working with their hands. They must provide needed equipment quickly.

Integrity. Because they are trusted to help during surgical procedures, surgical assistants and technologists must be ethical and honest.

Listening skills. Responding to requests from surgeons and others on the surgical team requires the ability to listen to and understand spoken directions.

Physical stamina. Surgical assistants and technologists should be comfortable standing for extended periods.

Stress-management skills. Working in an operating room can be stressful. Surgical assistants and technologists should work well under pressure.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certification may be beneficial for finding a job, and some employers may require it. Surgical assistants and technologists may earn certification through credentialing organizations.

For example, certification through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting allows the use of the title “Certified Surgical Technologist (CST).” Certification typically requires completing an accredited formal education program or military training program and passing an exam.

Certification through the National Center for Competency Testing allows the use of the title “Tech in Surgery – Certified or TS-C (NCCT).” Applicants may qualify through formal education, military training, or work experience. All require documenting critical skills and passing an exam.

The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants, and the American Board of Surgical Assistants offer certification for surgical assistants.

In addition, many jobs require that surgical assistants and technologists become certified in CPR or basic life support (BLS), or both.

Some states have regulations governing the work of surgical assistants and technologists. For more information, contact your state licensing agency.

Advancement

Surgical assistants and technologists may choose to advance to other healthcare occupations, such as registered nurse. Advancement to other healthcare occupations usually requires additional education, training, and/or certifications or licenses. A technologist may also choose to become a postsecondary teacher of health specialties.

Pay About this section

Surgical Assistants and Technologists

Median annual wages, May 2021

Surgical technologists

$48,530

Surgical assistants and technologists

$48,510

Surgical assistants

$48,320

Health technologists and technicians

$46,910

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for surgical assistants was $48,320 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,680, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $96,870.

The median annual wage for surgical technologists was $48,530 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $75,940.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for surgical assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Offices of physicians $61,250
General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and private 49,940
Outpatient care centers 48,570
Offices of other health practitioners 47,000
Offices of dentists 40,540

In May 2021, the median annual wages for surgical technologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Outpatient care centers $56,470
Offices of physicians 50,220
Hospitals; state, local, and private 48,310
Offices of dentists 48,070
Administrative and support services 37,850

Most surgical assistants and technologists work full time. Surgical assistants and technologists employed in hospitals may work or be on call during nights, weekends, and holidays. They may also be required to work shifts lasting longer than 8 hours.

Job Outlook About this section

Surgical Assistants and Technologists

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Health technologists and technicians

7%

Surgical assistants

6%

Surgical assistants and technologists

6%

Surgical technologists

6%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

Overall employment of surgical assistants and technologists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 9,600 openings for surgical assistants and technologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Advances in medical technology have made surgery safer, and more operations are being done to treat a variety of illnesses and injuries.

In addition, the aging of the large baby-boom generation is expected to increase the need for surgical assistants and technologists because older people usually require more operations. Moreover, as these individuals age, they may be more willing than those in previous generations to seek medical treatment to improve their quality of life. For example, an individual may decide to have a knee-replacement operation in order to maintain an active lifestyle.

Employment projections data for surgical assistants and technologists, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Surgical assistants and technologists

128,700 136,400 6 7,700

Surgical assistants

29-9093 18,000 19,200 6 1,200 Get data

Surgical technologists

29-2055 110,700 117,200 6 6,500 Get data

Video

WordPress Image Lightbox Plugin