What Does a Surgical Technologist Do?

Surgical technologists are valued assets in the operating room, aiding surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses. They work under the authority and supervision of a surgeon in most cases, unless prohibited by hospital policy or state law.

A surgical technologist, also called a surgical technician, may work in outpatient care centers, physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers or hospitals.

A surgical technician works to fill the first scrub role both before and during surgery. When an operation is pending, the surgical tech helps by preparing the operating room. A tech may set up by setting up equipment and supplies, surgical equipment like gowns, gloves, drapes, suction tubing and receiving instruments or medications from the circulator. The job of a surgical tech is to make sure all equipment is ready and working properly. If it is not, it is the job of the tech to make necessary adjustments.

When a surgical procedure takes place, the surgical technologist must be ready to meet the needs of the surgeon. When the surgeon needs medical instruments and supplies, it is the job of the technician to hand them over. The tech is responsible for:

  • Providing solutions and medications to the surgeon
  • Providing needed supplies like sponges or instruments
  • Keeping track of and counting instruments and sharps
  • Receiving tissue specimens
  • Passing tissue specimens to the circulator
  • Giving medications and solutions to the surgeon
  • Ensuring that sterile techniques are administered properly in order to prevent surgical site infections in patients

Depending on hospital policy and/or state law, surgical technologists may also fill the assistant circulator role. This role requires a surgical tech to transport patients to and from the operating room and prepare them for surgery with tasks like disinfecting incision sites or positioning them on the operating table before a procedure. The assistant circulator will assist the first scrub surgical technologist with duties by obtaining items needed during the procedure such as sponges or suture. The assistant circulator may also help to provide sterile dressings and assist with counts.

It is important to know that the role of a surgical tech is different than that of a surgical assistant. An individual who wishes to pursue a role as a surgical assistant is usually a registered nurse and is required to undergo additional training.

Qualities a Surgical Tech Should Have

If you are considering a job in the surgical tech field, you will need to carry (or develop) several qualities. Candidates for the role of surgical technologist should be able to:

  • Work effectively alongside team members
  • Communicate, understand and respond effectively
  • Work well in high stress situations by maintaining a calming presence
  • Deal well with difficult and unexpected experiences

Surgical technicians should also have a strong stomach as the operating room can be bloody and gory. If you have ever fainted or thrown up at gruesome sights, you may not be an ideal candidate for working in the operating room.

Academic Requirements

A high school education is usually required to enter into most programs although some require applicants to take and pass prerequisite courses before they will consider accepting them into the program. Individuals must also be 18 years old. Some programs require a minimum of a 2.5 high school grade point average (GPA).

An individual pursuing a career as a surgical technologist should seek training from a program offered by community colleges, universities, junior colleges, hospitals, vocational schools and the military. A postsecondary certificate or associate’s degree is required to practice. A student can expect to spend anywhere from twelve months (for a certificate) to two years (for an associate’s degree) to complete.


Although certification is not a requirement when it comes to being hired as a surgical technologist, many employers look for certified candidates. Surgical technology is becoming increasingly competitive so certification is recommended.

The national surgical technology certification exam is one certification program recommended to be taken by individuals wishing to work as surgical technicians. This exam is offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). To be eligible to take this exam, a candidate must have graduated from one of the following:

Another certification exam is option offered by the National Center for Competency Testing. This exam is nationally recognized.

Both of the above exams must be renewed every four years.

Working Conditions

Surgical technicians typically work in the operating room. The operating room can be warm under surgical lights when covered in a sterile gown, mask and surgical gloves. Members of the surgical team are often required to stand for long periods of time while remaining fully alert during procedures. Unpleasant sights, odors and materials will be experienced at times. Occasionally, surgical technicians are exposed to communicable diseases as well.

Surgical technologists may also be required to be “on call” at times. If an emergency arises, like a pregnant mother requiring a Cesarean section or a motor vehicle accident, the technician may be called in to operate along with other members of the surgical team, no matter what time of day or night.

Surgical techs often work in cool, well-lighted, clean settings when not in the operating room.

Salary Range

The median pay for surgical technologists was $45,160 per year as of 2016 or $21.71 per hour. The median wage is the wage that at least half of the workers in the field earned more than and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent made less than $31,720 while the highest 10 percent earned over $64,800.

The median wage in 2016 was highest in outpatient care centers at $46,960. Surgical techs who worked at physicians’ offices had a median wage of $45,730 while hospital surgical techs earned $44,740. Surgical technologists who worked in dental offices earned a median pay of $44,050.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment within the surgical technologist field is anticipated to grow by 12 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than the average occupation.

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