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Surgical Technologist

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(5.9 out of 10)

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Median Salary


Unemployment Rate

4.5 percent

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This Job is Ranked in
Best Health Care Jobs #34
The 100 Best Jobs #77

Before the surgeon scrubs in, surgical technologists sterilize the operating room and set sterile tools out on the tables for procedures. Before the operation, surgical technologists may also position the patient on the table, cover him or her with sterile drapes and prepare medications and sterile solutions. These workers may find themselves handing over the scalpel for incisions or moving tissue out of the surgeon’s vision with retractors. They are also tasked with keeping the room sterile and counting tools. In the assisting role, surgical technologists are the surgeon’s right hand during operations, directly attending to the surgeon’s needs and perhaps suctioning incisions or suturing wounds. After procedures, surgical technologists may transfer the patient to the recovery room and restock the operating room.

It is more cost-effective for hospitals to swap out registered nurses for surgical technologists in operating rooms, and advances in medical technology that make surgeries safer and more common are also benefitting surgical technologists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 29,300 new jobs and employment growth of nearly 30 percent between 2012 and 2022. Surgical technologists who have completed an accredited program will have the best job prospects.


These health care professionals had a median salary of $41,790 in 2012, according to the BLS. The highest earners made more than $60,240, while the lowest earners took home less than $29,710. California is home to the highest-earning surgical technologists – particularly the metropolitan areas of Vallejo, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento and San Francisco.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $50,500
Median $41,790
25th Percentile $34,560


To get a job as a surgical technologist, you’ll typically need a postsecondary certificate or associate degree. Accredited surgical technology programs are usually one to two years in length and are offered at community colleges, technical schools, colleges and universities and through the military. “A typical program consists of lab/mock operating and surgical rotation,” says Kevin Frey, director of continuing education at the Association of Surgical Technologists and a certified surgical technologist. “Classes include anatomy and physiology and hands-on practice of scrubbing and surgical instrumentation.” In an accredited program, a prospective surgical technologist will complete a minimum of 120 surgical procedures under direct supervision. Upon graduation, surgical technologists may obtain the Certified Surgical Technician credential, although Frey says not every state requires it. “Some states – Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas – have a surgical technology law that requires an individual must be a graduate of an accredited program, attain and maintain the CST credential, and complete continuing education to renew the credential in order to work in the state as a surgical technologist,” he says.

Additional certifications are available from the Accreditation Review Council on Education in Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting and the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. The Certified Surgical First Assisting credential, for example, allows surgical technologists to directly assist surgeons during procedures.

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When applying for a job at a health care facility, Frey says you should explain what you can offer the surgical technology program and what procedures you have done, plus you must be able to sell your skills. “Employers expect for you to walk through the door and start basic procedures,” he says. “There will be additional in-house training for higher-level procedures.” Candidates for surgical technology work need to be team players, able to resolve conflict and maintain a level head in stressful situations.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility fair Average
Stress Level poor Above Average
Flexibility poor Below Average
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Last updated by Evan Taylor.

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