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Surgical Technician Salary Exposed

By: CareerFactsheet editors- Updated: Aug 10, 2012

Surgical technologists assist surgeons and surgical teams. They are also known as surgical technicians or operating room technicians, and they play an important role in ensuring safe and sterile operating conditions. Surgical technologists prepare operating rooms by gathering and arranging surgical equipment, and they provide assistance to doctors and nurses during surgeries. They ensure there are supplies in the operating room for surgical operations, and they also clean and restock operating rooms once an operation has concluded. Surgical technologists also prepare patients for surgeries, including washing and disinfecting incision sites. During surgeries, they provide assistance by handing instruments and other supplies to nurses and doctors, in addition to performing any other duties that are requested by members of the surgical team.

Surgical Technologist Salaries

A surgical technologist earned an average median hourly wage of $19.69 or $40,950 annually in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average annual salary for all occupations was $45,230 per year or $21.74 per hour in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although surgical technologists earn less than the national average, technologists do earn more than individuals in similar occupations. For example, medical assistants who perform similar duties in non-surgical settings earned average wages of $30,170 per year and $14.51 per hour in 2011.

The pay scale for a surgical technologist depends on the state where they are employed. A surgical technologist’s salary also often depends on their employer and their specialization. For example, technologists employed in outpatient care centers earn more than those working at hospitals. While the median hourly wage for technologists was $19.69 or $40,950 annually, technologists earning the top 10% of wages received $59,150 per year or $28.44 per hour. By comparison, technologists in the bottom 10% earned $28,860 annually or $13.87 per hour. Median wages are increasing. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the median wage for surgical technologists was $39,920 per year.

Where do Surgical Technologists Work?

Hospitals are the main work location for surgical technologists. In addtion, surgical technologists can be found in outpatient surgery centers and in physicians’ or dentists’ offices where surgeries are performed. Since work is undertaken in locations where surgeries are performed and technologists work closely with patients, technologists may be exposed to communicable diseases, as well as unpleasant sights and smells. As a result of these conditions and the need to pay attention to detail, working as a surgical technologist can also be stressful. This is particularly the case when dealing with patients in distress or pain and when working in high-risk surgeries where focus and attention to detail are vital.

The top employers of surgical technologists in the United States are general medical and surgical hospitals, which employed 65,390 technologists in 2011 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The remaining top employers were physicians’ offices (12,070 technologists employed), outpatient care centers (7,810), dentists’ offices (4,020), and specialty hospitals, except psychiatric and substance abuse facilities (1,220). The industry with the highest concentration of employment for surgical technologists was outpatient care centers. The remaining employers with the highest job concentrations were general medical and surgical hospitals, specialty hospitals (except psychiatric and substance abuse facilities), and offices of physicians and dentists.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, states with the highest level of employment for surgical technologists in 2011 included Texas, California, Florida, New York, and Ohio. Jurisdictions with the highest concentration of jobs were the District of Columbia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and South Dakota. States with the lowest level of employment included Montana, Wyoming, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Similarly, states with the lowest concentration of surgical technologist jobs included Wyoming, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Illinois, and New Jersey.

Maximizing Income Potential

Surgical Tech's Income

Advancement opportunities and higher salaries are possible through specialization in one specific area of surgery. Progression is also possible with additional training, which allows technologists to become first assistants and assist with surgical procedures. By developing a career plan that includes specialization and advancement to positions of greater responsibility, such as first assistants, technologists can maximize their earning potential.

Surgical technologists can also maximize earning potential by targeting sectors that provide, on average, the highest salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employer offering the highest salaries in 2011 was individual and family services, including child and youth services, and services for the elderly and persons with disabilities. Technologists in this sector could expect to earn an average annual salary of $50,140, or $24.10 per hour. Additional industries with the highest paying positions for technologists include offices of other health practitioners ($48,960 per year or $23.54 per hour), colleges, universities, and professional schools ($47,900 annually or $23.03 hourly), specialities hospitals except psychiatric and substance abuse facilities ($47,860 annually or $23.01 hourly), and other ambulatory health care services ($45,680 per year or $21.96 per hour).

Targeting states with the highest average salaries for surgical technologists can also maximize earning potential. In 2011, the state with the highest salaries for technologies was Nevada. A surgical technologist in Nevada can expect to earn, on average, $53,990 per year or $25.96 per hour. The remaining top paying states included Hawaii ($52,340 per year or $25.16 per hour), Alaska ($52,130 annually or $25.06 hourly), California ($51,940 per year or $24.97 per hour), and Massachusetts ($49,500 per year or $23.80 per hour). Although California and Massachusetts are significant employers of technologies with 8,900 and 2,410 employed, respectively, the top three highest paying states have fewer job opportunities. For example, Alaska only had 140 technologist employed in the state in 2011.

Becoming a Surgical Technologist

To become a certified surgical technician you must typically complete a post-secondary certificate, diploma, or degree program in surgical technology. Completion of an associate’s degree programs is recommended by the Association of Surgical Technologists for entry-level positions as a surgical technologist. Programs are delivered by vocational schools, community colleges, junior colleges, universities, and other educational institutions. Programs generally last from nine months to two years, and admission typically requires a high school diploma or equivalent.

Certification may also be needed for certain positions, and to enhance your prospects for employment. Certification of surgical technologists and surgical assistants is regulated by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) and the National Center for Competency Testing. Certification through the NBSTSA allows you to use the title of ‘Certified Surgical Technologist’, while certification through the National Center for Competency Testing permits you to use the title ‘Tech in Surgery-Certified’. Certification is accomplished by passing an examination once you have completed an accredited formal education program in surgical technology. The NBSTSA also certifies first assistants, which are senior surgical technologists who have obtained some work experience. The National Healthcare Association (NHA) also offers certification in surgical technology through its Certified Operating Room and Surgical Technician (CORST) certification program.

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