Operating Room Technician Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Learn about an operating room technician's job duties, salary and education/training requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of an operating room technician's career.
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Pros and Cons of an Operating Room Technician Career

Operating room technicians, also called surgical technologists, assist doctors and nurses during surgical procedures. The following pros and cons of being an operating room technician can help you decide if this is the right career for you.

Pros of Being an Operating Room Technician
Much-faster-than-average employment growth (expected 30% between 2012 and 2022)*
Decent wage potential (average wage of about $45,000 as of May 2014)*
Technical training or associate's degree programs sufficient for entry-level positions**
May work in various healthcare settings**

Cons of Being an Operating Room Technician
May be required to spend long periods standing*
Work may be stressful*
Work hours may include evening, weekends and holidays*
May be exposed to potential hazards, including communicable diseases*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Medical Association.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Operating room technicians are medical professionals who assist surgeons and nurses during surgical procedures. They have a variety of duties that take place pre-surgery, during surgery and post-surgery. Prior to the surgery, they prepare the operating room by making sure it's correctly stocked with sterilized equipment and tools. Operating room technicians help prepare the patient for the procedure by washing, shaving and disinfecting the incision sites. They may also answer questions patients may have.

The techs help transport patients to the operating room and help position them on the table. During the surgery, they assist the surgeons and nurses by handing them the supplies and instruments they need. They also assist the surgical staff with putting on gloves and gowns. They may also help apply dressings to the patient. After the surgery, they transport patients back to their rooms and make sure the operating room is cleaned and restocked with supplies.

Job Growth and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), surgical technologists were predicted to see an employment growth of 30% between 2012 and 2022. The aging population and the increase in surgical procedures being performed both contribute to the favorable employment projections. The BLS reported that surgical technologists earned a mean annual wage of around $45,000 as of May 2014. Surgical technologists who complete accredited training programs and keep up with certifications should have the best employment opportunities, according to the BLS.

Education and Training Requirements

To become an operating room technician, you usually need to complete a training program. To meet admission requirements, an applicant may need to provide a high school diploma, completed health examination and health insurance. In addition to submitting to a criminal background check, applicants may need to provide proof of current immunizations, CPR certification and a completed shadow experience at a local clinic.

Training programs, which may be diploma, certificate or associate's degree programs, are found at vocational/technical schools and community colleges. They range in length from nine months to two years. The curriculum includes lectures, laboratory studies and clinical education to obtain supervised hands-on training. Course topics may include anatomy and physiology, patient care skills, medical terminology, microbiology, surgical wound care, surgical technology and pharmacology. As an OR tech, some additional skills are important to the job, such as:

  • Ability to work under stress
  • Good stamina
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Dexterity

Job Postings from Real Employers

Education, job duties and work requirements may vary by employer. However, in addition to the necessary education requirements, most employers are seeking applicants with the above-mentioned skills as well as those who are willing to gain additional certifications, such as the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) certification. Although this isn't a picture of the entire job market for OR technicians, here are a couple of real job postings from April 2012:

  • A Connecticut hospital is in need of an operating room technician to assist the surgical team with direct patient care activities. The OR tech will assist with departmental work as needed, participate in staff or patient/family education, evaluate and plan patient care and be aware of the legal aspects regarding surgical technologists. Applicants should be graduates of approved SCT programs with at least six months of experience as surgical techs or have documented on-the-job training. Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) certification is desired but not required.
  • An ambulatory surgical center in Wisconsin is seeking an operating room technician to assist with surgical procedures and patient care, while working under the supervision of a charge nurse and/or a registered nurse. Applicant must have completed an accredited operating room technician program and must have experience working in a multispecialty operating room, along with technical skills needed for this position.
  • A healthcare service provider in Michigan is seeking a surgical technician to assist in surgical procedures. Candidate requirements include completion of a surgical technician program, certification as a surgical technician and certification in automated external defibrillators (AED) and CPR. Job duties include preparing instruments and surgical medication, cleaning and sterilizing surgical equipment, performing administrative duties and providing patients with post-surgical care.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Once you earn your degree and obtain some work experience, you'll want to make yourself as competitive as possible. One way you can maximize your skills is through certification. Certification, although not required, demonstrates knowledge and skill and is looked at favorably by potential employers. Several organizations offer certification programs for surgical technologists. Eligible candidates can obtain the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) certification from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). The Tech in Surgery - Certified (TS-C) certification is available through the National Center for Competency Testing. The National Healthcare Association (NHA) offers the Certified Operating Room and Surgical Technician (CORST) certification. To be eligible for certifications, candidates must meet education and/or work experience requirements and pass written examinations. Continuing education is usually required to maintain certification.

Other Fields to Consider

Choosing a career can be a big deal, and you're going to want to be sure you're making the right choice. If you're still uncertain about becoming an operating room technician, here are a couple of other related careers you may wish to consider.

Licensed Practical or Licensed Vocational Nurse

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) provide medical care to sick or injured patients while under the supervision of registered nurses and doctors. Becoming an LPN or LVN requires completion of an associate's degree program in nursing. The nursing curriculum includes coursework, lab studies and clinical education. Before you can work as a nurse, you're required to obtain licensure by passing an examination. According to the BLS, these workers can expect an employment growth of 22% between 2010 and 2020. As of May 2011, the mean annual wage for licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses was around $42,000.

Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist or Technician

If you know you want to be part of the medical profession but want less or no hands-on patient contact, you may find a career as a medical and clinical laboratory technologist or technician rewarding and challenging. These workers spend most of their time in the lab collecting samples and performing tests used to help with the diagnoses and treatment of diseases. As similar as some of their duties may be, the technicians actually work under the technologists. Becoming a medical and clinical lab technologist requires completion of a bachelor's degree program, while the technicians only need an associate's degree. Both may be required to obtain licensure. According to the BLS, medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians were predicted to experience an employment growth of 13% between 2010 and 2020. The BLS also reported that technologists earned a mean annual wage around $58,000, while technicians earned near $39,000 as of May 2011.

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Herzing University

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Southern New Hampshire University

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Capella University

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