How Much Do Surgical Techs Make? Exploring Salaries and Other Common Questions

illustration of an OR with surgeon and surgical technologist with question marks over their heads

Have you ever watched Grey’s Anatomy—or, even better, those shows that document real-life surgeries—and wondered what it would be like to work in an operating room? While having a front-and-center view to surgery might not be for everyone, a career as a surgical technologist could be an excellent option for someone looking for a fulfilling and fascinating healthcare career.

Surgical technologists are healthcare professionals crucial to the teams conducting life-saving operations and surgeries. Though not everyone can be the surgical star of a network television show, you can begin your own career doing what’s right for your patients and yourself.

As you begin to research this possible career path, you may have a list of questions that need answering: How much do surgical techs make? What do surgical techs do? What can I expect for the surgical tech job market? You’ve been looking for answers, and we’ve got you covered.

6 Common questions about a surgical technologist career answered

1. What is the salary for a surgical technologist?

One of the first concerns that may come to your mind is the surgical tech earning potential. It’s important to consider whether the job you love is one that can support your family. Whether or not a surgical tech salary can do that will depend on your personal situation, but its earning potential does stack up well when compared to all positions nationwide. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the 2019 median annual salary for a surgical technologist was $48,300.1 This is above the reported median annual wage for all workers, which is $39,810.1 Keep in mind, “average” can be defined multiple ways, and a median wage isn’t necessarily the most common wage.

Work setting can also have an influence on surgical technologist pay. According to the BLS, surgical technologists in outpatient facilities saw a median annual wage of $51,840 in 2019.1

2. What does a surgical technologist do?

While surgical technicians aren’t often featured prominently in TV shows that revolve around the operating room (OR), they are vital to a successful surgery. They work to assist surgeons by preparing the OR before surgery, sterilizing equipment, passing instruments and tools during surgery and ensuring that the correct number of supplies is available before and after surgery—a small but very important task—just ask anyone stuck dealing with the complications of a retained surgical item.

Surgical technologists may not perform surgical work such as creating incisions, but they’re definitely in the thick of things as they can help surgeons by holding retractors or internal organs in place. Once surgery is over, surgical techs may dress the incision with bandages. They also work before surgery with patients, transporting them to the operating room and cleaning or disinfecting the incision site.

3. Where do surgical technologists work?

You may be familiar with the hospital operating room on television, but you may not know where else surgical technologists work. According to the BLS, surgical technologists can be found in a range of settings, including physician offices, outpatient care centers and even in dental offices. The majority of surgical techs do work in hospitals—about 73 percent of them—but do not discount these other settings.1

Many routine and same-day surgeries are moving to outpatient care centers. This reduces costs for hospitals and lets patients go home the same day so they can be more comfortable in their recoveries. Surgical technologists will be needed in these centers as they grow in popularity.

4. What skills do surgical techs need?

We used real-time job posting analysis software to take a closer at 59,826 job postings for surgical technologists to learn what skills employers are actively seeking. Among the top soft skills needed are communication, teamwork and collaboration, organization and computer literacy.2

The top specialized skills include knowledge of surgery, surgical technology, patient care, aseptic technique and sterilization procedures.2 Don’t worry if this list sounds intimidating. These specialized skills will be developed in a Surgical Technologist program.

Of course, the skills listed in job postings only tell part of the story—great surgical technologists have many defining traits and abilities. A strong stomach, the ability to keep cool under pressure and the ability to adapt on the fly are all definite plusses.

5. How do you become a surgical technologist?

Now that you know all the details of the job, you may be considering becoming a surgical technologist. But how do you become one? As we mentioned earlier, this career path will require completion of an education program beyond high school. The good news is that a surgical technologist’s path to working in the OR is manageable—particularly when compared to some healthcare careers. The Rasmussen University Surgical Technologist Associate’s degree program can be completed in as few as 21 months.3 That’s not a bad turnaround time considering the number of healthcare jobs that require a Bachelor’s degree and beyond.

In an Associate’s degree program, you learn important subjects, such as anatomy, biology and medical terminology, as well as learn sterilization methods, how to set up surgical equipment and how to prevent infections. Degree programs also include a hands-on clinical component, so you’ll have the experience needed to hit the ground running.

6. What is the job outlook for surgical technologists?

No matter how intriguing this career may seem at the moment, it’s still hard to justify an investment in your education if employment opportunities are few and far between. While the job market for surgical technologists in your area will be influenced by more variables than we can possible cover here, the overall outlook for surgical technologist employment and employment of other healthcare professionals is positive.

In fact, the BLS projects that employment of surgical technologists will grow seven percent through 2029. This is faster than the average of all occupations in the country as the aging “Baby Boomer” population will cause an increase in demand for healthcare services, including surgical procedures.1 While obviously things can change, these longer-term employment growth projections show a steady field.

Take the next step toward a surgical technologist career

If you are fascinated with the intricate field of surgery and want to earn a living helping others through healthcare, then this just might be the right career for you. While the route becoming a surgical technologist will have its challenges, you’ll have support along the way.

Our article “Surgical Tech Training: What to Expect on the Road to the OR” can help provide you a sneak peek into your future as a surgical technologist in training.

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed February, 2021] Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary. (Analysis of 59,826 surgical technologist job postings, Dec. 01, 2019 – Nov. 30, 2020).
3Time to completion is dependent on the number of transfer credits accepted and courses completed each term.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2018. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2021.

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She earned her MFA in poetry and teaches as an adjunct English instructor. She loves to write, teach and talk about the power of effective communication.

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