Surgical Technician Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career in surgical technology? See real job description, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a surgical technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Surgical Technician Career

Surgical technicians work closely with surgeons and other members of the operating room team to prepare patients for surgery, aid with procedures and maintain a sterile environment. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming a surgical technician is the right career choice for you:

Pros of a Surgical Technology Career
Advancement to surgical assisting positions is possible*
Two years or less of required education*
Opportunity to help people have successful surgeries*
Can work in multiple healthcare settings (dentists' offices, physicians' offices, hospitals, etc.)*

Cons of a Surgical Technology Career
Unpleasant sights and smells*
Possible on-call hours*
Many hours spent standing*
May require certification*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Info

As a surgical technician, you need to have a strong composure around the possibly unpleasant sights and smells that occur during operations. You'll assist in creating a sterile environment in the operating room, as well as pass instruments to the doctor during surgical procedures. Most surgical technicians are employed in hospitals, but you could also work in the offices of doctors or dentists. You may be required to have some on-call hours during evenings, weekends and holidays. You may also be required to work shifts longer than the traditional 8-hour workday.

Career Prospects and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected an employment increase of 30% for surgical technologists in the decade from 2012-2022, mostly due to the increase in the aging population and their need for surgical procedures (www.bls.gov). Advances in surgical technology have made some procedures easier and more common, as well as created new operations with which surgical technicians can assist. The BLS reported in May 2014 that surgical technologists made a median annual wage of $43,350.

Training and Education Requirements

Surgical technicians are required to complete postsecondary training programs that last anywhere from a few months to two years. Depending on the program, you can earn a certificate or associate's degree. These programs combine lecture courses with supervised clinical experience to teach you about surgical procedures and operating room sterilization. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs accredits all levels of surgical technology programs. Topics that you'll learn in your program may include anatomy, medical terminology, patient safety and infection control.

What Employers are Looking for

Many employers want to hire surgical technicians with a couple years of experience, though some may accept a completed training program as an equivalent. Read these summaries of job postings open in March 2012 to get an idea of what employers are looking for:

  • A non-profit medical center in Florida wanted to hire a surgical technician who had graduated from a surgical technology or related program. Basic life support certification and at least two years of experience were also required.
  • A medical center in West Virginia was looking for a surgical technician who had preferably graduated from a surgical technology program or had comparable experience. The position required CPR certification. The main duty would be to pass instruments to the surgeon, but acting as a second assistant may sometimes be part of the job.
  • A facial rejuvenation company in Minnesota wanted a surgical technician who had preferably attended a training program and obtained certification to assist in surgical procedures. CPR and AED (automated external defibrillator) certification was required. The ideal candidate should have been able to commit to a flexible schedule.

How to Stand out in the Field

Get Certified

Though you don't need to be certified to work as a surgical technician, many employers look to hire those with credentials. According to the BLS, technicians who maintain their professional certifications may experience the greatest job prospects. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting offers the Certified Surgical Technologist designation. You are eligible to test for this certification after you have completed an accredited surgical technology training program. This certification must be renewed every four years by completing 60 continuing education credits.

The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) also offers certification for surgical technicians with its Tech in Surgery-Certified (NCCT) designation. You are eligible to take the certification exam after fulfilling a combination of education and experience requirements.

Other Careers to Consider

If you like working with patients but aren't sure you can stomach the operating room, consider a career as a medical assistant. Medical assistants support doctors and other healthcare professionals with both clinical and administrative duties. Formal training is not required for this position, but 1- and 2-year programs are available. Certification is also not required, but may be preferred by employers. The BLS reported in May 2011 that medical assistants made a median annual wage of $29,000.

If you're detail-oriented but would prefer much less patient interaction, you could look into a career as a medical laboratory technician. In this position, you'd analyze samples in a lab. Med lab techs usually attend certificate or associate's degree programs to learn the procedures for testing bodily fluids and tissues for disease and abnormalities. Licensure or certification may be required in some states. The BLS reported in May 2011 that medical lab technicians made a median annual wage of $37,000.

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Indiana Wesleyan University

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Southern New Hampshire University

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Saint Joseph's University

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Penn Foster Career School

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Northcentral University

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