Surgical Assistants and Technologists

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Surgical assistants and technologists help with surgical operations.

Work Environment: Most surgical technologists work in hospitals. They spend much of their time on their feet.

How to Become One: Surgical technologists typically need a postsecondary nondegree award or an associate’s degree. Certification can be beneficial in finding a job. A small number of states regulate surgical technologists.

Salary: The median annual wage for surgical assistants is $48,320. The median annual wage for surgical technologists is $48,530.

Job Outlook: Employment of surgical technologists is projected to grow 6 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of surgical technologists with similar occupations.

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a surgical assistant or technologist with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 3 Surgical Assistant and Technologist Jobs

  • Surgical Technologist (Carlisle) - UPMC Presbyterian (Pittsburgh) - Carlisle, PA

    Perform a variety of tasks in an operating room that assist the surgical team. Arrange sterile ... Technologist (CST) or Technologist Surgery Certified (TSC) within 6 months of program completion

  • Travel Surgical Technologist - COVID19 - $3,100 per week - Quality Nurses - Honolulu, HI

    Current certification as a first assistant (CFA), surgical assistant (CSA), or assistant in surgery by one the following: o National Board of Surgical Technology and Assisting (NBSTSA)o National ...

  • Travel Surgical Technologist - COVID19 - $2,904 per week, Days - Oloop Health - Honolulu, HI

    B. EXPERIENCE: • At least 2 years of Certified Surgical Assistant experience in an acute care OR setting. Oloop Technology Job ID #231893. Pay package is based on 8 hour shifts and 40 hours per ...

See all Surgical Assistant and Technologist jobs

What Surgical Assistants and Technologists Do[About this section] [To Top]

Surgical assistants and technologists help with surgical operations. Surgical assistants, also called surgical first assistants, help surgeons with tasks such as making incisions, placing clamps, and closing surgical sites. Surgical technologists, also called operating room technicians, prepare operating rooms, arrange equipment, and help doctors and first assistants during surgeries

Surgical technologists typically do the following:

  • Prepare operating rooms for surgery
  • Sterilize equipment and make sure that there are adequate supplies for surgery
  • Ready patients for surgery, such as by washing and disinfecting incision sites
  • Help surgeons during surgery by passing them instruments and other sterile supplies
  • Count supplies, such as surgical instruments, to ensure that no foreign objects are retained in patients
  • Maintain a sterile environment to prevent patient infection

Before an operation, surgical technologists prepare the operating room by setting up surgical instruments and equipment. They prepare sterile solutions and medications used in surgery and check that all surgical equipment is working properly. Surgical technologists also bring patients to the operating room and get them ready for surgery by positioning them on the table, covering them with sterile drapes, and washing and disinfecting incision sites. And they help the surgical team put on sterile gowns.

During an operation, surgical technologists pass the sterile instruments and supplies to surgeons and first assistants. They might hold retractors, hold internal organs in place during the procedure, or set up robotic surgical equipment. Technologists also may handle specimens taken for laboratory analysis.

After the operation is complete, surgical technologists may apply bandages and other dressings to the incision site. They may also transfer patients to recovery rooms and restock operating rooms after a procedure.

Surgical assistants have a hands-on role, directly assisting surgeons during a procedure. For example, they may help to suction the incision site or suture a wound.

Surgical assistants and technologists work as members of a healthcare team alongside physicians and surgeons, registered nurses, and other healthcare workers.

Work Environment for Surgical Assistants and Technologists[About this section] [To Top]

Surgical assistants hold about 18,000 jobs. The largest employers of surgical assistants are as follows:

General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and private 41%
Offices of physicians 25%
Offices of dentists 20%
Outpatient care centers 3%
Offices of other health practitioners 2%

Surgical technologists hold about 110,700 jobs. The largest employers of surgical technologists are as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 72%
Offices of physicians 11%
Outpatient care centers 11%
Offices of dentists 2%
Administrative and support services 1%

Ambulatory surgical centers are included in outpatient care centers.

Surgical assistants and technologists wear scrubs and sterile gowns, gloves, caps, and masks while they are in the operating room. Their work may be physically demanding, requiring them to be on their feet for long periods. Surgical technologists also may need to help move patients or lift heavy trays of medical supplies. At times, they may be exposed to communicable diseases and unpleasant sights, odors, and materials.

Surgical Assistant and Technologist Work Schedules

Most surgical assistants and technologists work full time. Surgical assistants and technologists employed in hospitals may work or be on call during nights, weekends, and holidays. They may also be required to work shifts lasting longer than 8 hours.

How to Become a Surgical Assistant or Technologist[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Surgical Assistants and Technologists near you!

Surgical assistants and technologists typically need a certificate or an associate's degree. Employers may require or prefer that workers have certification. Some states regulate these workers.

Education for Surgical Assistants and Technologists

Surgical assistants and technologists typically need a certificate or associate's degree from an accredited program. Many community colleges and vocational schools, as well as some universities and hospitals, offer accredited surgical technology or surgical assisting programs.

Surgical assistants may complete a formal education program in surgical assisting. Others may work as surgical technologists and receive additional on-the-job training to become first assistants.

Surgical technology education includes courses such as anatomy, microbiology, and physiology. These workers also learn about the care and safety of patients, sterilization techniques, how to set up technical or robotic equipment, and preventing and controlling infections. In addition to classroom study, students gain hands-on experience in supervised clinical settings.

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredits programs in surgical technology and surgical assisting.

Important Qualities for Surgical Assistants and Technologists

Communication. To prevent infections or other complications, surgical assistants and technologists must relay any issues that arise during surgery to the other members of the healthcare team.

Detail oriented. Surgical assistants and technologists must pay close attention to their work. For example, surgical technologists need to provide the correct sterile equipment for surgeons during an operation.

Dexterity. Surgical assistants and technologists should be comfortable working with their hands. They must provide needed equipment quickly.

Integrity. Because they are trusted to help during surgical procedures, surgical assistants and technologists must be ethical and honest.

Listening skills. Responding to requests from surgeons and others on the surgical team requires the ability to listen to and understand spoken directions.

Physical stamina. Surgical assistants and technologists should be comfortable standing for extended periods.

Stress-management skills. Working in an operating room can be stressful. Surgical assistants and technologists should work well under pressure.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Surgical Assistants and Technologists

Certification may be beneficial for finding a job, and some employers may require it. Surgical assistants and technologists may earn certification through credentialing organizations.

For example, certification through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting allows the use of the title "Certified Surgical Technologist (CST)." Certification typically requires completing an accredited formal education program or military training program and passing an exam.

Certification through the National Center for Competency Testing allows the use of the title "Tech in Surgery – Certified or TS-C (NCCT)." Applicants may qualify through formal education, military training, or work experience. All require documenting critical skills and passing an exam.

The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants, and the American Board of Surgical Assistants offer certification for surgical assistants.

In addition, many jobs require that surgical assistants and technologists become certified in CPR or basic life support (BLS), or both.

Some states have regulations governing the work of surgical assistants and technologists. For more information, contact your state licensing agency.

Advancement for Surgical Assistants and Technologists

Surgical assistants and technologists may choose to advance to other healthcare occupations, such as registered nurse. Advancement to other healthcare occupations usually requires additional education, training, and/or certifications or licenses. A technologist may also choose to become a postsecondary teacher of health specialties.

Surgical Assistant and Technologist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for surgical assistants is $48,530. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $75,940.

The median annual wage for surgical technologists is $48,530. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $75,940.

The median annual wages for surgical assistants in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Offices of physicians $61,250
General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and private $49,940
Outpatient care centers $48,570
Offices of other health practitioners $47,000
Offices of dentists $40,540

The median annual wages for surgical technologists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Outpatient care centers $56,470
Offices of physicians $50,220
Hospitals; state, local, and private $48,310
Offices of dentists $48,070
Administrative and support services $37,850

Most surgical assistants and technologists work full time. Surgical assistants and technologists employed in hospitals may work or be on call during nights, weekends, and holidays. They may also be required to work shifts lasting longer than 8 hours.

Job Outlook for Surgical Assistants and Technologists[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of surgical assistants and technologists is projected to grow 6 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 9,600 openings for surgical assistants and technologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

See all medical jobs.

Employment of Surgical Assistants and Technologists

Advances in medical technology have made surgery safer, and more operations are being done to treat a variety of illnesses and injuries.

In addition, the aging of the large baby-boom generation is expected to increase the need for surgical assistants and technologists because older people usually require more operations. Moreover, as these individuals age, they may be more willing than those in previous generations to seek medical treatment to improve their quality of life. For example, an individual may decide to have a knee-replacement operation in order to maintain an active lifestyle.

Employment projections data for Surgical Assistants and Technologists, 2021-31
Occupational Title Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31
Percent Numeric
Surgical assistants and technologists 128,700 136,400 6 7,700
  Surgical assistants 18,000 19,200 6 1,200
  Surgical technologists 110,700 117,200 6 6,500


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


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