A surgical technologist is an important member of the operating room team, working closely with anesthesiologists, surgeons and circulating nurses to ensure that every surgery goes according to plan. Also known as scrubs or operating room technicians, surgical technologists may help set up the operating room, prepare and transport patients for surgery, adjust lights and equipment, pass instruments and other supplies to surgeons and surgeon's assistants, hold retractors, cut sutures, and help count sponges, needles, instruments and other supplies. It can be rewarding to interact with the patients and comfort those who are afraid of going into surgery.

Day in the Life of a Surgical Technologist

Surgical technologists (also known as operating room technicians,) perform a number of duties before and during surgery. This makes surgical technician jobs important and rewarding. On a typical day, a surgical technician job description might include the following duties.

Before Surgery:

  • Prepare patients for surgery, including transporting them to the operating room, positioning them on the operating table and covering them with sterile surgical drapes to prevent exposure
  • Set up surgical instruments and equipment
  • Prepare sterile solutions
  • Assemble any necessary sterile or non-sterile apparatus
  • Wash, shave and disinfect incision sites
  • Observe and monitor patient charts and vital signs
  • Assist the surgical team with sterile gowns and gloves

During surgery:

  • Maintain a proper sterile field during surgical procedures
  • Pass sterile supplies and instruments to surgical assistants and surgeons
  • Help apply dressings to surgical incisions
  • Hold retractors, severing sutures around wounds
  • Keep track of needles, sponges and other instruments
  • Help collect, confine, care for and dispose of laboratory specimens
  • Run diagnostic equipment or operate sterilizers, lights or suction machines

Surgical technicians' duties vary depending on the size and type of hospital where they work. For example, a surgical technician in a small hospital may assist in many types of surgery. Those who work in a large medical center may work in a certain specialty, such as women's health, and assist only with operations related to that specialty.

Important Characteristics for Surgical Technologists

Successful operating room technicians typically have the following traits and skills:

  • Accuracy and attention to detail, to ensure the surgery goes smoothly
  • Manual dexterity to handle surgical instruments
  • The ability to work well under pressure
  • A desire to help others, whether assisting the surgical team or comforting patients
  • Effective communication with both the surgical team and patients
  • Physical stamina, necessary for moving patients and standing during lengthy operations

Education Requirements

The typical path to becoming a surgical technologist includes these major steps: education, certification and continuing education. Here are a few details about each one.

  1. Earn an associate degree, diploma, or certificate from an accredited school.

    Programs that train students to become surgical technicians can be found at many community colleges, universities, hospitals, vocational schools and military institutions. These surgical technician schools offer training programs that last anywhere from 9 months to 2 years and may culminate in any of the credentials previously mentioned. Programs usually provide both classroom education and supervised clinical training.

  2. Become professionally certified.

    Professional certification is voluntary but it can give a surgical technician greater credibility in the eyes of many potential employers. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA), formerly the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist (LCC-ST), awards professional certification to graduates who pass a nationally standardized examination after attending an educational program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

  3. Complete courses in continuing education.

    After becoming a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST), you must earn 60 hours of relevant continued education or retake and pass the certification exam at the end of a four-year period.

Other Ways to Prepare for a Surgical Technologist Career

It is also possible to earn your certificate by completing a two-year, on-the-job training program or acquiring seven years of work experience in the medical field and contacting the National Center for Competency Testing. Certification earned in this manner must be renewed every 60 months through either retesting or continuing education.


Surgical Technologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Accessed Jan. 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/surgical-technologists.htm

Summary Report for Surgical Technologists, O*NET OnLine, Accessed Jan. 2018, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2055.00

Surgical Technologist Skills

Below are the skills needed to be surgical technologist according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Active Listening3.383.88
Operation Monitoring3.253
Critical Thinking3.123.12

Surgical Technologist Abilities

Below are the abilities needed to be surgical technologist according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Ability NameImportanceCompetence
Oral Comprehension44
Near Vision3.754
Problem Sensitivity3.753.75
Speech Recognition3.623.5
Arm-Hand Steadiness3.53.88

Surgical Technologist Knowledge

Below are the knowledge areas needed to be surgical technologist according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Knowledge AreaImportanceCompetence
Customer and Personal Service3.734.89
Medicine and Dentistry3.714.59
English Language3.453.51
Education and Training3.13.6

Surgical Technologist Work activities

Below are the work activities involved in being surgical technologist according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work ActivityImportanceCompetence
Getting Information4.524.4
Assisting and Caring for Others4.495.38
Evaluating Information to Determine Compliance with Standards4.424.72
Handling and Moving Objects4.425.43
Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Material4.44.73

Surgical Technologist Work styles

Below are the work styles involved in being surgical technologist according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work StyleImportance
Attention to Detail4.7
Self Control4.58
Stress Tolerance4.49

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Surgical Technologist

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Surgical Technologist jobs , as of 2019

Metro AreaTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim3,340$59,110
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land2,850$53,560
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell2,490$49,560
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington2,300$51,310
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach2,260$46,150
San Antonio-New Braunfels1,360$42,140
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward1,170$72,790

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Total employment and salary for professions similar to surgical technologists

Source : 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; O*NET® 24.3 Database, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, Employment & Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, onetonline.org

We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Surgical Technologist.

Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.