Surgical Technologist Career Guide 2024

Table of Contents

Surgical Technologist Salary in United States for 2023

Average Annual Salary: $55,960 Hourly Rate: $26.91

Data sourced from the U.S. Department of Labor via the ONET Web API. Updated at December 8, 2023

Best Colleges and Universities for Surgical Technologists in 2023

Best College Majors for Surgical Technologists in 2023

Projected Job Employment for Surgical Technologist:

Estimated YearProjected YearEstimated EmploymentProjected Employment% ChangeProjected Annual Job Opening

Surgical Technologist Career Path Overview

Surgical Technologists, also known as operating room technicians, play a vital role in surgical teams. Their primary responsibility involves assisting surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists before, during, and after surgery. To become a surgical technologist, you need to follow a specific career path that includes education, certification, and continuous learning.

Education Requirements

The first step to becoming a Surgical Technologist is to obtain a high school diploma or its equivalent. The next step is to enroll in a postsecondary educational program. Accredited surgical technology programs are offered by community colleges, vocational schools, universities, and some hospitals. These programs typically last from several months to two years and lead to a certificate, diploma or associate's degree. Courses in a surgical technology program generally cover anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, medical ethics, and patient care. Additionally, these programs also include clinical experience where students get hands-on training in sterilization techniques, preventing and controlling infection, handling of special drugs, patient care, and surgical procedures.


After completing the educational requirements, aspiring Surgical Technologists should consider becoming certified. Although not all states require certification, employers often prefer certified candidates. The Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential can be obtained from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). To earn this certification, candidates must pass an exam. Another certification option is the Tech in Surgery - Certified (TS-C), offered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). Both certifications require continuing education or reexamination to maintain certified status.

Advancement Opportunities

With experience and further education, Surgical Technologists can advance into specialized roles such as First Assistant or even move into administrative positions like operating room director. Some may choose to specialize in a particular area of surgery such as neurology, cardiothoracic, or orthopedic surgery. In addition, Surgical Technologists may also choose to transition into medical sales, product development, or teaching roles. They may even pursue further education to become a Registered Nurse (RN), Nurse Practitioner (NP), or Physician Assistant (PA).

Continuous Learning

The field of surgical technology is constantly evolving with advancements in surgical procedures and technology. Therefore, continuous learning is a critical aspect of this career path. Surgical Technologists are expected to keep up-to-date with the latest techniques and technologies through continuing education courses and workshops. In conclusion, the career path of a Surgical Technologist offers numerous opportunities for growth and advancement. It requires a strong commitment to education, certification, and ongoing learning. The rewards, however, including the chance to make a significant difference in patients' lives, are well worth the effort.

Surgical Technologist Career Path Education and Training

To begin your career as a surgical technologist, a high school diploma or its equivalent is a prerequisite. However, the journey doesn't stop there. This section aims to shed light on the necessary education and training required for a successful career in surgical technology.

Postsecondary Education

The first step in your surgical technologist career path is postsecondary education. Although some hospitals may offer on-the-job training programs, most employers prefer candidates who have undergone formal education. You can enroll in a diploma, certificate, or associate's degree program from an accredited institution. These programs typically last from several months to two years and provide comprehensive coursework that covers anatomy, biology, medical terminology, and patient care.


Upon completion of your educational program, it's highly recommended to become certified. Two main organizations offer certification for surgical technologists in the United States: The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) and the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). To earn certification, you must pass an exam that tests your knowledge and skills in surgical procedures and safety protocols.

Hands-on Training

As part of your education, you'll also participate in clinical rotations. This hands-on training under the supervision of experienced professionals is crucial for building practical skills. You'll learn to sterilize instruments, prepare patients for surgery, and assist surgeons during operations.

Continuing Education

To maintain your certification and stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in the field, continuing education is essential. Most certifying bodies require surgical technologists to complete a certain number of continuing education credits every few years.

Advancement Opportunities

With further education and experience, surgical technologists can advance their careers. Many choose to specialize in a specific area of surgery, such as neurology or cardiology. Others may decide to pursue roles with more responsibility, such as becoming a surgical first assistant or moving into healthcare administration. In conclusion, the education and training pathway for a surgical technologist involves formal education, certification, hands-on training, continuing education, and potential advancement opportunities. It's a rewarding career path that allows you to play a vital role in patient care and requires a commitment to lifelong learning.

Surgical Technologist Career Path Progression

As a Surgical Technologist, your career path is filled with numerous opportunities for growth and advancement. The journey typically begins with entry-level roles, but with experience, additional education, and professional certifications, you can progress to advanced positions that offer more responsibilities and higher remuneration.

Entry-Level Roles

The career progression for a Surgical Technologist generally starts with entry-level roles. After completing an accredited Surgical Technologist program and passing the certification exam, you can start working in hospitals, outpatient care centers, or physicians' offices as a Surgical Technologist. Here, you will assist in surgical operations under the supervision of surgeons, registered nurses, or other surgical personnel. Your responsibilities would include preparing the operating room, sterilizing equipment, ensuring patient safety, and assisting during procedures.

Mid-Level Roles

With a few years of experience under your belt, you can advance to mid-level roles such as a Senior Surgical Technologist or Lead Surgical Technologist. In these positions, you'll take on more responsibilities including training and supervising new or junior surgical techs, managing surgical supplies inventory, coordinating with other healthcare professionals for surgeries, and sometimes even assisting surgeons during complex procedures.

Specialized Roles

Specialization is another way to progress in your Surgical Technologist career. Specialized Surgical Techs have in-depth knowledge and skills in specific surgical areas like cardiothoracic surgery, orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery or plastic surgery. To specialize, you'll likely need additional training or education related to your chosen field. Being specialized can open up even more opportunities and potentially increase your earning potential.

Advanced Roles

After gaining substantial experience and further education, you might consider moving into advanced roles such as a Surgical Assistant or even a Surgical Technologist Instructor. As a Surgical Assistant, you will work closely with the surgical team and may perform tasks such as suturing wounds and providing aid in exposure, hemostasis, and other intraoperative technical functions. As a Surgical Technologist Instructor, you would teach aspiring surgical techs in educational institutions.

Continuing Education and Certifications

Continuing education and certifications play a vital role in the career progression of a Surgical Technologist. Certifications like the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) or the Tech in Surgery - Certified (TS-C) from the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) can significantly enhance your credibility and marketability. Additionally, participating in workshops, seminars, and other continuing education programs can keep you updated with the latest developments in the field. In conclusion, the career path for a Surgical Technologist is dynamic and rewarding. It offers diverse opportunities for those willing to gain experience, pursue further education, and acquire specialized skills.

Surgical Technologist Career Path Specializations and Subfields

The surgical technologist career path offers a variety of specializations and subfields that can enhance your professional experience and increase your job opportunities. The diversity in this field allows you to choose a specialization that fits your interests and career goals. Whether you're drawn to the fast-paced environment of trauma surgery or the meticulous precision required in microsurgery, there's a niche for everyone in the field of surgical technology.

Cardiovascular Surgical Technologist

As a cardiovascular surgical technologist, you will assist in surgeries that involve the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. This specialization requires a deep understanding of cardiovascular anatomy and physiology, and the ability to handle high-stress situations. Cardiovascular surgical technologists often work with cardiovascular surgeons in operating rooms at hospitals or specialized heart centers.

Orthopedic Surgical Technologist

Orthopedic surgical technologists play a critical role in surgeries related to the musculoskeletal system. They assist orthopedic surgeons during procedures such as joint replacements, spine surgeries, and fracture repairs. Knowledge of orthopedic instruments, implants, and specific surgical procedures is vital in this role.

Neurology Surgical Technologist

Specializing in neurology means you'll be assisting in surgeries involving the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. Neurology surgical technologists need a keen understanding of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, and must be adept at handling delicate and intricate surgical procedures.

Obstetric and Gynecological Surgical Technologist

In this role, you'll work alongside obstetricians and gynecologists in surgeries related to women's reproductive health. This might include procedures like cesarean sections, hysterectomies, or fertility surgeries. An obstetric and gynecological surgical technologist must be familiar with specific instruments and procedures related to women's health surgery.

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgical Technologist

Plastic and reconstructive surgical technologists assist in surgeries aimed at improving appearance or restoring function to parts of the body. This might include procedures like cosmetic surgeries, burn treatments, or reconstructive surgeries after trauma. A meticulous attention to detail and an understanding of aesthetics are crucial skills for this specialization.

Trauma Surgical Technologist

Working as a trauma surgical technologist means you'll be part of a team that handles emergency situations. This might involve surgeries related to car accidents, gunshot wounds, or severe burns. Trauma surgical technologists must be able to think quickly, handle high-stress situations, and adapt to rapidly changing scenarios. Each of these specializations offers unique opportunities and challenges, allowing you to tailor your career path according to your interests and strengths. Specializing can also increase your marketability as a professional, potentially leading to higher income and greater job satisfaction.

Surgical Technologist Career Path Job Market and Outlook

The job market for surgical technologists is robust and shows potential for continued growth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for surgical technologists is projected to grow by 7% from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. This growth can be attributed to several factors, including an aging population that will require more surgical procedures, advancements in medical technology, and an increased focus on cost efficiency in healthcare.

Job Market Competition

Although the job market is growing, competition for surgical technologist positions can be fierce. Technologists with certifications, such as the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) or Tech in Surgery - Certified (TS-C), often have better job prospects. Moreover, those who have gained experience through internships or externships during their educational programs also have a competitive edge.

Geographical Differences

The job market for surgical technologists also varies by location. States with larger populations and more hospitals typically have a higher demand for surgical technologists. For instance, states like California, Texas, and Florida employ the highest number of surgical techs according to BLS data.

Impact of Technological Advancements

Technological advancements in healthcare also play a significant role in shaping the surgical technologist job market. The advent of new surgical procedures and equipment requires technologists to continually update their skills. As a result, those who are willing and able to adapt to these changes are more likely to find employment.

Future Outlook

Looking ahead, the future appears bright for surgical technologists. The ongoing growth in healthcare services, particularly in outpatient surgery centers where procedures are less expensive than in hospitals, is expected to continue driving demand for these professionals. Moreover, as current surgical technologists retire or advance into other healthcare positions, new opportunities will arise for those entering the field. In conclusion, the job market and outlook for surgical technologists is favorable. With a growing demand, high competition, geographical differences, technological advancements, and a promising future outlook, this career path offers a rewarding and dynamic environment for those interested in the field of healthcare.

Surgical Technologist Career Path Salary and Compensation

As a Surgical Technologist, you play a crucial role in the operating room, ensuring that surgeries go as planned. This high-demand profession offers competitive salaries and numerous opportunities for advancement. However, the exact salary and compensation packages can vary depending on several factors such as your level of experience, geographical location, specialization, and the type of healthcare facility in which you work.

Entry-Level Surgical Technologist Salary

Starting off in this career, surgical technologists can expect to earn an average annual salary of around $38,000 to $45,000 according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This figure represents the lower 10% of earnings in this field, which typically encompasses those with less experience or those working in areas with lower cost of living.

Mid-Career Surgical Technologist Salary

As you gain more experience and improve your skills, your earning potential increases. Mid-career surgical technologists, which typically includes those with five to ten years of experience, can expect to earn between $47,000 and $60,000 annually. At this stage, additional certifications and specializations can significantly boost your income.

Experienced Surgical Technologist Salary

Experienced surgical technologists who have over ten years of experience in the field can earn upwards of $60,000 annually. The top 10% of earners in this profession make over $73,000 per year according to BLS data. These are typically professionals who have advanced certifications and have specialized in certain types of surgeries.

Factors Influencing Surgical Technologist Salary

Several factors can influence a surgical technologist's salary. Geographic location is a major factor as salaries tend to be higher in urban areas where the cost of living is higher. The type of healthcare facility can also impact your salary. For instance, working in a general medical hospital may offer different compensation than a specialized surgical center. Additionally, the more specialized your skills, the higher your earning potential. For example, a surgical technologist who specializes in cardiac surgery or neurosurgery may earn more than one who works in general surgery due to the advanced skills and knowledge required.

Additional Compensation and Benefits

Besides the base salary, surgical technologists may also receive additional benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, and continuing education allowances. Some employers may also offer sign-on bonuses or relocation assistance for highly qualified candidates. Overall, the Surgical Technologist profession offers a rewarding career path with solid earning potential and numerous opportunities for advancement. The demand for these professionals is expected to grow in the coming years, making it a viable option for those interested in a healthcare career.

Surgical Technologist Career Path Tips for Success

As a surgical technologist, your role is vital in the operating room, assisting surgeons and nurses in delivering the best possible care to patients. The path to success in this career involves more than just technical skills; it also requires a certain level of professionalism, interpersonal skills, and a commitment to ongoing learning. Below are some tips for success in your career as a surgical technologist.

Acquiring the Right Education and Certification

The first step towards becoming a successful surgical technologist is getting the right education. This typically involves earning a diploma, certificate, or associate's degree from an accredited surgical technology program. After completing the program, you'll want to become certified. The Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) certification offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) is widely recognized and can boost your employment prospects.

Developing Essential Soft Skills

In addition to technical knowledge, soft skills are also crucial for success as a surgical technologist. These include communication skills, since you'll need to effectively communicate with surgeons, nurses, and other members of the surgical team. Attention to detail is also essential given the precision required in surgical procedures. Furthermore, adaptability is key as no two surgical procedures are the same and you must be able to respond effectively to unexpected situations.

Gaining Practical Experience

While classroom learning is important, nothing beats hands-on experience. Try to get as much practical experience as possible during your training program through internships or work-study opportunities. After graduation, consider working in different settings such as hospitals, outpatient care centers, and physicians' offices to gain diverse experience.

Continuing Education and Specialization

The field of surgical technology is constantly evolving with new techniques and technologies being introduced regularly. As such, it's important to stay up-to-date by pursuing continuing education opportunities. You may also wish to specialize in a particular area of surgical technology, such as neurosurgery or cardiovascular surgery, to enhance your skills and increase your marketability.

Professional Networking

Building a strong professional network can open up new opportunities and provide valuable support throughout your career. Join professional organizations, attend industry events, and connect with fellow surgical technologists and healthcare professionals on platforms like LinkedIn. Remember, the journey to becoming a successful surgical technologist requires commitment, dedication, and a passion for patient care. By following these tips, you can navigate this career path more effectively and achieve your professional goals.

What is a Surgical Technologist?

A Surgical Technologist, often referred to as a scrub tech or surgical technician, is a critical member of the surgical team. These healthcare professionals prepare operating rooms, arrange equipment, and assist doctors during surgeries. Their role can be physically demanding and requires a keen eye for detail, adherence to strict protocols, and the ability to respond quickly and effectively under pressure.

What Education is Needed to Become a Surgical Technologist?

Most Surgical Technologists hold a postsecondary nondegree award or an associate's degree. Most accredited programs are found in community colleges and vocational schools. These programs typically last between 12 to 24 months and offer both classroom education and hands-on training in surgical technology skills. Coursework often includes anatomy, biology, medical terminology, pharmacology, sterilization techniques, and patient care.

What Certification is Required for a Surgical Technologist?

Certification for Surgical Technologists is not mandatory in all states, but it's highly recommended for better job prospects. The Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential can be obtained by passing an exam administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). Another certification option is the Tech in Surgery - Certified (TS-C), offered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT).

What Skills are Required for a Surgical Technologist?

Surgical Technologists must have a comprehensive set of hard and soft skills. Hard skills include knowledge of surgical procedures, ability to sterilize instruments and ensure all equipment functions properly, understanding of medical terminology and anatomy. Soft skills include strong communication, teamwork abilities, attention to detail, manual dexterity, physical stamina, and stress management.

What is the Job Outlook for a Surgical Technologist?

The job outlook for Surgical Technologists is very positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of Surgical Technologists is projected to grow 7 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Advances in medical technology and an aging population have increased the demand for surgical procedures, thus increasing the need for Surgical Technologists.

What is the Career Path for a Surgical Technologist?

The career path for a Surgical Technologist usually starts with entry-level positions in hospitals or outpatient care centers. With experience, they can specialize in a specific area like cardiac surgery or neurosurgery. Some may take on additional responsibilities like inventory management or training new techs, leading to roles as a lead surgical technologist or surgical services manager. Continuing education and certifications can also open doors to teaching roles or sales positions within medical equipment companies.

What are the Advancement Opportunities for a Surgical Technologist?

Advancement opportunities for Surgical Technologists depend on their level of education, experience, and specialization. With advanced certifications and experience, they can move into senior roles or specialize further. They might become first assistants, taking on more responsibility during procedures. Some might choose to move into administrative roles such as operating room directors or program directors in surgical technology education. Others may transition into related fields like medical equipment sales or clinical consulting.

What is the Salary Range for a Surgical Technologist?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for Surgical Technologists was $48,300 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,420, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $71,400. Factors influencing salary include level of education, certifications held, years of experience, geographic location, and the type of healthcare facility.