What is a Surgical Technologist and Where Can This Career Take Me?

Surgical technologists are integral parts of the operating process. A surgical technologist may be responsible for helping prepare patients for surgery by dressing their wounds, transporting them onto operating tables and helping patients remain calm before a procedure begins. Surgical techs are also often responsible for handling important medical instruments, sterilizing operating rooms when a surgery is complete and assisting patients with wound care during post-op.

Where Can I Go From Here?

While working as an entry-level surgical technologist, you may begin to wonder about the kinds of opportunities available for you to advance within the trade and transition into greater levels of responsibility. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to add variety and excitement to your career as a surgical technologist.

Specialized Functionality

Surgical technologists may find that they prefer to work in certain surgical environments, helping to perform specific types of procedures. For example, you may choose to specialize in cosmetic surgeries, knee replacement surgeries or labor and delivery surgeries. While you may or may not perform exclusively within your specialization, you will begin to drastically improve your expertise within your chosen functionality. This could lead to an increase in compensation, especially with medical facilities that have a need for surgical technologists with your particular area of specialization.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from 2017, the highest paid surgical technologists in the country earned more than $67,000 per year. The job market for surgical technologists is also expected to expand by 12 percent during the 10-year period between 2016 and 2026.

Surgical First Assistant

Advancing through the ranks as a surgical technologist may lead you to a career as a surgical assistant. Also referred to as a first assistant, this career path carries a greater level of responsibility than surgical technology. If you’re interested in becoming second-in-command to the lead surgeon, this may be the ideal career move for you. You may be in charge of directing or overseeing the surgical team during an operation or acting as an additional pair of hands to the lead surgeon. In addition to a degree or certificate program, you will need to sit for the Certified Surgical First Assistant exam in order to find employment within this field.

BLS data indicate that job market and salary expectations are the same for surgical technologists and surgical first assistants.


If you enjoy participating in open-heart surgeries, you may want to consider becoming a perfusionist. Perfusionists carry the important responsibility of operating machinery and administering medication that controls the functions of the heart and lungs during surgery. Since the heart typically needs to be stopped during a cardiovascular operating procedure, perfusionists help ensure that blood continues to flow to the patient’s organs and tissues while the operation is taking place. To work as a perfusionist, you will need to complete a degree or certificate program in cardiac perfusion, along with the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion exam.

BLS data indicate that the job market for perfusionists will expand by 22 percent during the 10-year period between 2014 and 2024. According to 2017 data from payscale.com, perfusionists earn between $80,000 and $147,000 annually.

Nurse Anesthetist

Administering anesthesia is an intricate process handled by nurse anesthetists. Understanding dosage requirements and insertion sites are included in their responsibilities. Building a successful career as a nurse anesthetist will require completion of a master’s degree program along with at least one year of clinical experience as a registered nurse.

The job market for nurse anesthetists is expected to see 30 percent growth during the 10-year period between 2016 and 2026, according to BLS data. The highest earners in this career field earned more than $180,000 per year, according to BLS data from May 2017.


Becoming a surgeon may be the most ambitious goal of a surgical technologist. To be entrusted with this level of responsibility, several years of formal education are required. This includes a four-year college degree in addition to medical school.

The BLS expects this job market to grow by 13 percent during the 10-year period between 2016 and 2026. Surgeons earned an average of more than $250,000 per year according to BLS data from May 2017.

Each of the above career paths will see expansion during the coming years, indicating job security and market stability. While certain advancement options will require higher levels of education, you will also see an increase in pay as you begin to move up the ranks within the medical field.

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