Dissecting the Surgical Tech Job Description

surgical tech's hand grabbing surgical tools

The job title “surgical technologist” (sometimes called surgical tech) probably has you picturing a silent medical professional who hovers at the edge of the action in the bustling operating room (OR). Maybe they get to hand over a necessary tool when the surgeon calls for a scalpel, but beyond that, you have no idea what’s included in the surgical tech job description.

Medical dramas on TV will have you believing that surgical technologists don’t have much to do with successful surgical procedures. Hollywood cameras love to focus on the surgeon, brow furrowed in concentration while everyone else is practically invisible outside of the times they hand over an instrument. While it’s true surgeons take on the “starring role” of a real operating room—and command a salary to match it—the truth is they rely on a skilled team to support them as well.

Surgical techs play a vital role in making sure surgeries go smoothly from start to finish. They’re part of a surgical team that works together to prioritize patient safety above all else. It’s a job that’s anything but behind the scenes!

If you’ve been curious about a career as a surgical tech, you’ve probably been asking yourself, “What do surgical techs do?” We did the research to bring you a comprehensive breakdown of this important medical career.

What do surgical technologists do?

Surgical technologists’ job duties extend far beyond handing a surgeon the tools they need! These medical professionals are responsible for many aspects of the operating room.

These are just a few of their common job duties, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and O*NET: 1,2

Pre-surgery duties

  • Prepare the OR and replenish necessary supplies
  • Sterilize and arrange tools
  • Test and verify the correct operation of lights and equipment
  • Prepare patients for surgery, including disinfecting wound sites and positioning them on the operating table

Duties during surgery

  • Pass supplies to surgeon as needed
  • Continuously monitor OR conditions throughout the procedure
  • Observe patients’ vital signs

Post-surgery duties

  • Count supplies and tools to ensure that no foreign objects are left in the patient
  • Transport patients to the recovery room
  • Clean OR, wash equipment and restock supplies
  • Maintain accurate records of surgical procedures

These duties may not have the dramatic flair of a surgeon’s job, but you can see from the list above that surgical techs have tasks that are vitally important to the health and safety of patients. Their job duties related to maintaining a sterile OR are especially crucial to performing safe surgeries.

What is a surgical technologist work environment like?

You can probably guess that most surgical technologists work in hospitals, but that doesn’t tell the whole story about their potential work environments. Surgical techs actually have more workplace options than you may have guessed! The BLS reports that 11 percent of surgical technologists work in outpatient facilities, 10 percent are employed by physician’s offices and 3 percent work in dentistry.1

Hollywood has given many people a false idea about what it’s like to work in an operating room, which is oftentimes a calm environment rather than the chaotic scenes you see on TV. Though there is a need for emergency surgeries, many surgeries are either elective (planned ahead) or urgent (performed within a few days). This gives the surgery team plenty of time to schedule and prepare the OR without the rushing and drama you may have imagined.

Depending on where a surgical technologist works, they might have fairly standard daytime work hours or they could be on call to help with emergency surgeries on nights, weekends and holidays.

No matter which OR a surgical technologist works in, there are some standard similarities. All operating rooms must be sterile, and surgical technologists will need to follow proper procedures for scrubbing their hands and arms and gowning up in sterile scrubs before a surgery takes place.

How much does a surgical technologist earn?

Surgical technologists are fairly compensated for their important work in the OR, with the BLS reporting that their median annual salary was $47,300 in 2018.1 The BLS reports surgical techs who work in hospitals earned a median annual salary of $46,990 per year, while those in outpatient facilities earned $50,340.1

Not only are these medical professionals relatively well paid, they’re also in demand. The BLS projects that surgical assistant jobs will grow by 9 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the national average across all career fields.1 This is partially because advances in medical technology have made surgery a safer option, making the large Baby Boomer generation more willing to seek out optional surgeries that could improve their quality of life.

What skills does a surgical technologist need?

As you can imagine, surgical technologists require a specialized skillset to perform their important job duties in the OR. Surgical techs gain technical skills like patient care techniques and sterilization methods in a degree program.

However there are also plenty of soft skills that come into play in a surgical assistant’s daily work. These are just a few of the soft skills these surgical team members need, according to ONET:2

  • Monitoring
  • Active listening
  • Critical thinking
  • Complex problem solving
  • Judgment and decision making

Do you have what it takes to work in the OR?

Now that you have the lowdown on the surgical technologist job description, you might be picturing yourself working in this medical role. But becoming a surgical tech sounds intimidating. What if you don’t have what it takes to complete such a rigorous education program?

Don’t jump to conclusions just yet! The path to becoming a surgical technologist isn’t as difficult as you might think. Learn more about the process with our article, “Your 4-Step Guide on How to Become a Surgical Technologist.”

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed October, 2019]. Salary ranges represent national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and include workers at all levels of education and experience. Ranges do not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, [accessed October, 2019] www.bls.gov/oes/. Salary ranges represent national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and include workers at all levels of education and experience. Ranges do not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.

About the author

Ashley Brooks

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

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