Becoming a Surgical Technologist | Harris School of Business
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5 Things to Know About Becoming a Surgical Technologist

Surgical technologists—also called operating room technicians— assist in surgical operations

Can you picture yourself working in an operating room? Can you imagine working alongside surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses? Surgical technologists—also called surgical technicians and operating room technicians—play an important role in the operating room. They are there to assist surgeons and nurses during the important procedures that occur within the walls of the operating room.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Department of Labor, describes the field of surgical technology. This resource can help you determine whether this is a good career path for you. You may want to consider the five points below as you are making your decision.

1. What do surgical technologists do?

Surgical technologists are responsible for assisting in surgical operations. But what does this mean? What kind of tasks might you do on a typical day? Here are some of the main jobs that a surgical technologist is trained to handle:

  • Prepare operating room for surgery by setting up needed supplies and equipment
  • Sterilize equipment and other supplies
  • Check supplies, and replenish anything that is running low
  • Transport a patient to surgery
  • Help prepare a patient for surgery, which may include helping with their gowns, keeping them comfortable before surgery, positioning a patient for surgery, or washing an incision site
  • Keep a sterile field when necessary
  • Help surgical team put on sterile gowns and gloves
  • Assist during procedures, including passing instruments and other supplies to the surgeon or other healthcare workers
  • Handle specimens for analysis
  • Help apply bandages and other dressings after surgery
  • Transport patient to recovery room

Does this fast-paced sort of work sound like a good fit for you? If so, keep reading to find out more about this career option.

2. How is the workplace environment?

Most jobs for surgical technologists are in hospitals. There may also be job opportunities in outpatient care centers, or in the medical offices of doctors who perform outpatient surgeries.

Most positions in this field require full-time hours, and sometimes you may need to work nights, weekends, or holidays. Depending on your employer, you may work shifts, which may be longer than eight hours.

The dress code is typically scrubs, and in the operating room, surgical technologists may be required to wear sterile clothing. Much of the work is done on your feet, and some of the work is physically demanding, such as moving patients, or lifting supplies.

3. How do you become a surgical technologist?

There are several different possibilities for training for this career. Most jobs will require that you have postsecondary education. You may choose to enroll in a program at a community college, vocational school, or a private career training school. The training programs differ. Some programs that offer associate’s degrees may take up to 2 years or more. Other accelerated programs can be completed in less than 1 year.

While studying to be a surgical technologist, you will take classes in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, sterilization processes, prevention of infection, and other relevant coursework. Many career training programs also feature opportunities—such as internships or externships—where you can practice your new skills in a job-like setting. After receiving the training, many students decide to take a certification exam in order to become certified.

4. How much do surgical technologists make?

It’s important to consider your earning potential when you start a new career path. The wages of a surgical technologist can vary, depending on a number of different factors. You can learn more about the median annual wage of surgical technologists through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.  

You may also want to browse the job listings in your area. Job listings may show the hourly wage, and this will help you understand the pay range in your local area.

5. What is the job outlook for the future?

When you are considering getting trained for a new career, you will want to research the job outlook for the future. The Occupational Outlook Handbook discusses the job outlooks of hundreds of different jobs. For surgical technologists, the handbook says:

“Employment of surgical technologists is projected to grow 30 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

The handbook goes on to describe the reasons why the job outlook is strong. It states that more and more operations are being done, as medical advances have made surgery safer. The handbook also points out that the baby-boomer generation is getting older, and it is expected that this generation will need more operations, thus increasing the demand for surgical technologists. Surgical technologists may also be in demand as hospitals cut costs, since surgical technologists are more cost-effective for hospitals than registered nurses.

As you plan out your future, it is important to consider the factors above. We hope this article was useful to you as you make this important decision in your life.