- Employment is expected to grow much faster than the average
for all occupations through the year 2014.
- Job opportunities are expected to be good.
- Training programs last 9 to 24 months and lead to a certificate,
diploma, or associate degree.
- Hospitals will continue to be the primary employer, although
much faster employment growth is expected in offices of physicians
and in outpatient care centers, including ambulatory surgical
Surgical technologists, also called scrubs and surgical or operating
room technicians, assist in surgical operations under the supervision
of surgeons, registered nurses, or other surgical personnel. Surgical
technologists are members of operating room teams, which most
commonly include surgeons, anesthesiologists, and circulating
nurses. Before an operation, surgical technologists help prepare
the operating room by setting up surgical instruments and equipment,
sterile drapes, and sterile solutions. They assemble both sterile
and nonsterile equipment, as well as adjust and check it to ensure
it is working properly. Technologists also get patients ready
for surgery by washing, shaving, and disinfecting incision sites.
They transport patients to the operating room, help position them
on the operating table, and cover them with sterile surgical “drapes.”
Technologists also observe patients’ vital signs, check charts,
and assist the surgical team with putting on sterile gowns and
During surgery, technologists pass instruments and other sterile
supplies to surgeons and surgeon assistants. They may hold retractors,
cut sutures, and help count sponges, needles, supplies, and instruments.
Surgical technologists help prepare, care for, and dispose of
specimens taken for laboratory analysis and help apply dressings.
Some operate sterilizers, lights, or suction machines, and help
operate diagnostic equipment.
After an operation, surgical technologists may help transfer
patients to the recovery room and clean and restock the operating
Surgical technologists work in clean, well-lighted, cool environments.
They must stand for long periods and remain alert during operations.
At times they may be exposed to communicable diseases and unpleasant
sights, odors, and materials.
Most surgical technologists work a regular 40-hour week, although
they may be on call or work nights, weekends, and holidays on
a rotating basis.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Surgical technologists receive their training in formal programs
offered by community and junior colleges, vocational schools,
universities, hospitals, and the military. In 2005, the Commission
on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
recognized more than 400 accredited programs. 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,
Programs provide classroom education and supervised clinical
experience. Students take courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology,
pharmacology, professional ethics, and medical terminology. Other
studies cover the care and safety of patients during surgery,
sterile techniques, and surgical procedures. Students also learn
to sterilize instruments; prevent and control infection; and handle
special drugs, solutions, supplies, and equipment.
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. 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 seven
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 may 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.
Technologists advance by specializing in a particular area of
surgery, such as neurosurgery or open heart surgery. They also
may work as circulating technologists. A circulating technologist
is the “unsterile” member of the surgical team who prepares patients;
helps with anesthesia; obtains and opens packages for the “sterile”
persons to remove the sterile contents during the procedure; interviews
the patient before surgery; keeps a written account of the surgical
procedure; and answers the surgeon’s questions about the patient
during the surgery. With additional training, some technologists
advance to first assistants, who help with retracting, sponging,
suturing, cauterizing bleeders, and closing and treating wounds.
Some surgical technologists manage central supply departments
in hospitals, or take positions with insurance companies, sterile
supply services, and operating equipment firms.
Surgical technologists held about 84,000 jobs in 2004. About
7 out of 10 jobs for surgical technologists were in hospitals,
mainly in operating and delivery rooms. Other jobs were in offices
of physicians or dentists who perform outpatient surgery and in
outpatient care centers, including ambulatory surgical centers.
A few, known as private scrubs, are employed directly by surgeons
who have special surgical teams, like those for liver transplants.
Employment of surgical technologists is expected to grow much
faster than average for all occupations through the year 2014
as the volume of surgery increases. Job opportunities are expected
to be good. The number of surgical procedures is expected to rise
as the population grows and ages. The number of older people,
including the baby boom generation, who generally require more
surgical procedures, will account for a larger portion of the
general population. Technological advances, such as fiber optics
and laser technology, will permit an increasing number of new
surgical procedures to be performed and also will allow surgical
technologists to assist with a greater number of procedures.
Hospitals will continue to be the primary employer of surgical
technologists, although much faster employment growth is expected
in offices of physicians and in outpatient care centers, including
ambulatory surgical centers.
Median annual earnings of surgical technologists were $34,010
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,560 and
$40,750. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,940, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $45,990. Median hourly earnings
in the industries employing the largest numbers of surgical technologists
in May 2004 were:
|Offices of dentists
|Offices of physicians
|General medical and surgical hospitals
Other health occupations requiring approximately 1 year of training
after high school include dental assistants, licensed practical
and licensed vocational nurses, clinical laboratory technologists
and technicians, and medical assistants.
|Sources of Additional Information
For additional information on a career as a surgical technologist
and a list of CAAHEP-accredited programs, contact:
- Association of Surgical Technologists, 6 West Dry Creek Circle,
Littleton, CO 80120. Internet: http://www.ast.org/
For information on becoming a Certified Surgical Technologist,
- Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist,
6 West Dry Creek Circle, Suite 100, Littleton, CO 80120. Internet:
For information on becoming a Tech in Surgery-Certified, contact:
- National Center for Competency Testing, 7007 College Blvd.,
Suite 250, Overland Park, KS 66211.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition