Becoming an Operating Room Assistant: Job Description & Salary

About this article
An operating room assistant's mean annual salary is around $45,000. Is it worth education, training and certification requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an operating room assistant is right for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of an Operating Room Assistant Career

Also known as scrubs, surgical room technicians, surgical technicians or surgical technologists, operating room assistants are professionals who assist in surgical operations or procedures. Consider the pros and cons of a career as an operating room assistant before you decide to pursue it.

Pros
Much faster-than-average employment growth (expected 30% job growth between 2012 and 2022)*
Technical training and associate's degree sufficient for entry-level positions*
Can work in various medical settings*
Specialization opportunities*
A position where you help others*

Cons
Low to average salary (around $45,000 mean annual salary)*
May be required to work evenings, weekends and holidays*
Certification and continuing education often required for best opportunities*
May be exposed to communicable diseases*
May be exposed to unpleasant materials, odors or sights*
Requires standing in one place for extended periods*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Info

Job Description and Duties

As an operating room assistant, you would inspect and assemble the surgical equipment, making sure they're all in good working condition. You would also take care of maintaining and sterilizing supplies and equipment. After getting the patient ready for the surgery, you would transport them to the operating room and position them correctly on the table, ensuring they're covered with sterile drapes. Just prior to the procedure, you would also assist the surgeon with putting on sterile gloves and gown. During the actual procedure, you would hand the equipment to the surgeon according to the needs of the surgeon.

You would also monitor the patient's vital signs and chart. Other duties may include cutting sutures, holding retractors, passing instruments and counting needles, sponges and other instruments. After the procedure, you would document the patient's health records. Finally, you may take, or help others to take the patient to the recovery room, as well as clean and restock the operating room.

Career Path and Specializations

Although the largest numbers of operating room assistants are employed in hospitals, you may also find employment opportunities in outpatient care centers and physician offices. You can obtain specialized training and certification to become a certified surgical technologist and work as a circulator or surgical first assistant. As a surgical first assistant, you can assist in controlling or stopping bleeding, interviewing the patient pre-surgery, opening the surgical packages for the staff and answering any questions the surgeon may have during the actual surgery.

Job Growth and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), surgical technologists were expected to experience an employment growth of up to 30% between 2012 and 2022. Both the increase in surgical procedures being used and technological advances in the surgical profession contribute to the predicted growth. The BLS also reported that surgical technologists earned mean annual wages of about $45,000 as of May 2014. The industry that had the highest number of operating room assistants employed was general medical and surgical hospitals. However, the operating room assistants earning highest pay worked in home health care services. Job growth, according to the BLS, continues to be best for those who are certified and also willing to relocate.

Education and Training Requirements

Individuals interested in careers as operating room assistants must meet certain requirements for admission. In addition to having high school diplomas, they may be required to prove proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics. Applicants must show proof of a health examinations, immunizations, health insurance and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certification. They must also submit to drug screenings and criminal background checks.

Education Requirements

You'll need to complete a training program to become an operating room assistant. These programs - found at technical schools or community colleges - may lead to certificates or associate's degrees. Students can typically complete these programs in as little as nine months or up to two years. The curriculum for an operating room assistant program is often broken into segments. Students first must complete general education courses and any technical requirements. They then complete surgical technology coursework and participate in clinical education at local hospitals or medical facilities. The last part of the program may have students doing clinical rotations at a clinic or hospital. Course topics may include instrument sterilization, professional ethics, anatomy, surgical procedures, medical terminology, applied surgical techniques and safety issues.

Career Skills

Although completing a formal training program can help you obtain an operating room assistant position, there are other qualities and skills you should possess to be successful in this career:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Physical and mental stamina
  • Sound judgment
  • Critical thinking
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Ability to stand on your feet for long periods of time

What Employers Are Looking for

Although the main requirement to become an operating room assistant is going to be having the education and training, some employers may have requirements that are more specific. Below are some examples of job postings open in March 2012.

  • An outpatient surgery center in California is seeking an energetic operating room technician to scrub in and assist in various specialty surgical procedures. Applicants must have high school diplomas and at least one year of experience working as scrubs. The candidate will be responsible for preparing the surgical equipment and ensuring a sterile environment.
  • A Columbus, Ohio healthcare service provider advertised for a surgical technologist to perform the duties of preparing operating rooms, gathering surgical equipment and delivering them to the surgeon and staff; candidate may act as second assistant to the surgeon. Applicants must have completed surgical technologist programs and must possess medical knowledge.
  • A healthcare provider in Texas advertised for an operating room assistant who has completed an operating room assistant training program and possesses at least two years' experience working in the operating room. The successful applicant will have certification, strong moral character and will have the ability to work as part of a team.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Completing a formal training program for aspiring operating room assistants is the first step towards becoming part of this field, but you may want to get an edge in the field so you can compete in the workforce. Below are some ways to enhance your employment opportunities.

Get Certified

Although not a requirement, many employers list certification as an operating room assistant as preferred in their job postings. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting offer the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential to those who pass a certification examination. You can also obtain certification as a Tech in Surgery-Certified (TS-C) from the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) by passing an examination. To earn this credential you must have, in addition to completing formal training, either two years of on-the-job training in a hospital or seven years working at this profession.

Continuing Education

To stay competitive you must keep up with technology, certifications and continuing education. For instance, the CST credential, which is good for four years, can be maintained through continuing education. The TS-C credential, which expires after five years, also requires continuing education for renewal. Failure to keep up with continuing education may result in having to retake and pass the certifying examinations again. Continuing education can be achieved through a number of ways including attending surgical and medical conferences, completing college coursework in medicine or science and teaching medical subjects in some capacity.

You can also advance in the field by taking additional training or specializing in a certain area of surgery. Some choices may include open-heart surgery or neurosurgery. Advancing your training can earn you the title of circulating technologist or first assistant.

Other Careers to Consider

If you know you want to work in the medical field but aren't sure if being an operating room assistant is exactly the right fit for you, there are other careers you may consider.

Medical Assistant

Medical assistants are often the professionals responsible for keeping the medical office running smoothly and efficiently. Although this may vary by location or employer, medical assistants may perform medical or administrative duties or a combination of both, such as taking patient history, helping a doctor with examinations, scheduling future appointments for patients and various other duties. Some medical assistants may receive on-the-job training, although many complete formal training programs. Depending on the state, medical assistants may also need to be certified. Medical assistants earned a mean annual wage of around $30,000 as of May 2011.

Licensed Practical Nurse

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) help take care of patients who are sick, injured or disabled. Due mostly to the aging population, LPNs continue to be in demand in hospitals and medical facilities and their employment is expected to grow by about 22% during the 2010-2020 decade, which is faster than the average growth for all other jobs. To become an LPN, you'll need to complete a formal training program and obtain licensure. LPNs earned a mean annual wage of about $41,000 in 2011. Although the earnings are similar to operating room assistants, your duties as an LPN may bring more variety and less standing in one place, if this is more appealing.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Master of Science - DNP Path (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
    Master's
      • Accelerated BSN to MSN
      • MS in Nursing
      • Master of Science - DNP Family Nurse Practitioner
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
      • Master of Science - DNP Adult Nurse Practitioner
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
      • Bachelor: Health Science
      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
      • Bachelor: Health and Wellness
    Certificate
      • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate
      • Nurse Educator Graduate Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Queens University of Charlotte

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Undecided
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Administrator
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Educator
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Clinical Nurse Leader
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Clinical Nurse Leader Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice with an Emphasis in Educational Leadership
    Master's
      • M.S. in Nursing: Nursing Education
      • MBA and MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems (dual degree)
      • MBA: Health Systems Management
      • MS in Health Care Administration
      • MS in Nursing: Nursing Education
      • MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Nursing (Registered Nurse - R.N. to BSN)
      • BS in Health Care Administration
      • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Abilene Christian University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Advanced Practice Nurse
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Executive Nursing Leadership
    Master's
      • MBA - Healthcare Administration
      • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma
  • Campus and Online Programs
    7. South University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Nursing Practice (DNP)
    Master's
      • Nursing with a specialization in Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN)
      • RN to Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization in Family Nurse Practitioner (RN to MSN)
      • Nursing with a specialization in Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (MSN)
      • Nursing with a specialization in Nursing Informatics (MSN)
      • RN to Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization in Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (RN to MSN)
      • RN to Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization in Nursing Informatics (RN to MSN)
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Utica College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
  • Campus and Online Programs
    9. Fortis College

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate Degree in Nursing
    Certificate
      • Practical Nursing
      • Vocational Nursing
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • RN to Bachelors of Science in Nursing

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • Accelerated BSN to MSN
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate

Which subject are you interested in?

Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Queens University of Charlotte

  • Master of Science in Nursing: Undecided
  • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Administrator
  • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Educator

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • M.S. in Nursing: Nursing Education
  • BS in Nursing (Registered Nurse - R.N. to BSN)

What is your highest level of education?

Abilene Christian University

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Advanced Practice Nurse
  • MBA - Healthcare Administration
  • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

What is your age?

South University

  • Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • Nursing with a specialization in Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN)
  • RN to Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization in Family Nurse Practitioner (RN to MSN)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Utica College

  • RN to BSN

What is your highest level of education completed?