Certified Scrub Tech: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a certified scrub tech career? Get real job duties, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a scrub technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Certified Scrub Technician

Most scrub technicians, who prepare operating rooms and assist during surgical procedures, work in hospitals, although they may also work in private offices alongside physicians or dentists. Learn about the pros and cons of becoming a certified scrub technician before you decide whether this career is for you.

Pros of a Career as a Certified Scrub Technician
Work environment options (most scrub technicians work in surgical or general hospital settings)*
Opportunity to travel worldwide in some cases***
Starting point to pursue an advanced career (surgical assistant, physician's assistant or RN)*
Can advance by specializing in a particular type of surgery (i.e., open heart or neurosurgery)***

Cons of a Career as a Certified Scrub Technician
Median salary of about $43,350 as of 2014, which is below the national average of $45,010*
May come in contact with communicable diseases, body fluids, blood*
Work on your feet nearly all the time*
Might work holidays, weekends and nights, as well as shifts of more than eight hours*
Must be capable of lifting heavy objects (at least 20 lbs.)**
Might have to work at least six hours without restroom or food breaks**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Rochester Community and Technical College, ***Lakeland Community College.

Career Information

Job Description

A scrub technician - also called an operating room scrub technician, surgical scrub technician or surgical technologist - works in an operating room during surgery. A registered nurse (RN) supervises the scrub technician's work.

An operation has three phases - pre-operative, intro-operative and post-operative. The job duties of a scrub technician are dependent on the employer, but the tech generally has duties in all three phases of an operation. Duties of the scrub tech might include preparing equipment, the operating room (OR) and patients for surgery; taking patients to the OR and putting a surgical drape over them; and cleaning up the OR and equipment after surgery. They also might help the surgical team scrub in, hand instruments to the surgeon, account for all sterile items throughout and prepare tissue samples. A scrub tech might work in a hospital, clinic, veterinary surgery facility, dental surgical setting or ambulatory surgery center. He or she also might find work at an insurance company, equipment firm, sterile supply service or private doctor's office.

Salary Info and Career Growth

As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), scrub technicians earned a median annual wage of $42,720 as of May 2013, with the top 10% earning $61,300. California, Nevada, and Hawaii hosted the highest paid scrub technicians. The BLS also indicated that they predict a higher-than-average growth rate of 30% from 2012-2022.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

Community and vocational colleges offer programs leading to diplomas, certificates or associate's degrees in surgical technology. These programs typically cover anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, microbiology, medications, aseptic techniques, surgical procedures, pharmacology and patient care. They consist of both classroom instruction and clinical sessions. A scrub technician needs to be able to cope with stress and emergencies while using good judgment, interpersonal and communication skills. Manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination are also key.

Certification

Some states regulate scrub technicians by requiring them to obtain licensure or registration; this generally means that a scrub technician needs to obtain certification. Employers also tend to prefer candidates who are certified, even in states where it isn't necessary. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) and the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) offer certification opportunities. Scrub techs who have completed a properly accredited formal program must pass an exam to become a Certified Surgical Technologist or a Tech in Surgery-Certified, respectively. NBSTSA requires scrub techs to renew their certification every four years by either retaking the exam or earning continuing education credits. NCCT requires techs to recertify yearly by paying a fee and taking NCCT continuing education courses.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers generally look for candidates who are both certified and experienced. The following open positions were advertised in May 2012:

  • A medical center in Texas advertised for a scrub technician to act as a sterile member of the nursing team in the OR and to assist surgeons. Candidates needed to have finished a surgical technologist program and have national surgical tech and CPR certifications.
  • A clinic in Texas was seeking a certified scrub technician to assist during surgical procedures. Candidates needed to be certified in basic cardiac life support.
  • A healthcare system in Missouri sought a scrub tech to work in the operating room and stock supplies. Candidates needed a high school diploma and at least one year of experience, as well as scrub tech certification.

How to Stand Out in the Field

You can stand out by qualifying for more than one position in the operating room. Two possibilities (besides doctors, surgeons and nurses) are the second assistant and circulating assistant. A scrub technician may assume one or both of these positions with more education and training. Some associate's degree programs in surgical technology train students for all three positions. Regardless of your niche area, you'll want to scrub in with as many types of specialty surgeries as possible - both while you're in school and after. Types of surgeries that you might consider include ENT (ear, nose and throat), orthopedic, podiatry and plastic surgery. A wider expanse of experience can make you appealing to future employers.

Other Careers to Consider

If you don't want to work in an operating room, but you do want to stay in healthcare, you could consider becoming a radiologic technologist. These professionals also need an associate's degree to get started, although certificate and bachelor's degree programs are available. You also have to obtain licensure or certification. The BLS reported that radiologic technologists made a median salary of about $55,000 as of 2011. The same source predicted strong employment growth of about 28% from 2010-2020 for radiologic technicians.

A more advanced position that you might consider is scrub nurse. You may like the additional responsibilities that go along with being a nurse, such as designing patient care plans and overseeing scrub techs. You can become a registered nurse by earning a diploma or an associate's degree and obtaining licensure through the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). The BLS anticipated job growth of 26% for RNs from 2010-2020. These professionals earned a median salary of about $66,000 as of 2011, per the same source.

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