Surgical Technologist

Job Duties

Surgical technologists, sometimes referred to as scrubs or operating room technicians, assist surgeons, registered nurses, and other surgery-related persons in performing surgery on medical patients. They work in teams that include surgeons, anesthesiologists, and circulating nurses. They have many responsibilities prior to surgery, including preparing the operating room, laying out surgical instruments and other equipment, assembling sterile and non-sterile equipment, and testing equipment.

Surgical technologists also help patients prepare for surgery by washing, shaving, and disinfecting the places on the patient’s body where they surgeon will make the incisions. They help patients to the operating room, place them in the correct surgical position, and cover them with sterile sheets, known as “drapes.” They check the patient’s charts, help the surgeon and the rest of the staff into their gowns and gloves, and keep track of patients’ vital signs. The duties of surgical technologists continue into the surgical operation. During surgery, they may perform such tasks as counting sponges or needles, holding retractors, disposing of specimens obtained during surgery, and applying dressings. Some may even operate sterilizers, lights, or diagnostic equipment.

Job Skills

Surgical technologists must have well-developed manual dexterity because they often need to handle surgical instruments with speed and precision. They must be alert and able to respond quickly to the needs of the surgical team. They should keep their knowledge of trends in the field of surgery up-to-date. They also need to be orderly, conscientious, and emotionally stable.


In 2002, surgical technologists earned a median annual salary of $31,210. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $21,920, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $43,470.

Training and Education

Surgical technologists are trained at one of the more than 361 accredited programs found in community and junior colleges, vocational schools, universities, hospitals, and the military. These programs usually require applicants to hold a high school diploma or equivalent. They typically last from 9 to 24 months, and graduates receive either a certificate, diploma, or associate degree. Topics covered include anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, professional ethics, and medical terminology. Students also learn about the care and safety of patients, as well as how to work with sterilized instruments, control infection, and administer specialized drugs.

Technologists can become certified by the Liaison Council on Certification of the Surgical Technologist if they have graduated from an accredited program and passed an examination. They are then given the designation Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) which gives them a huge advantage in the job market as employers prefer to hire CSTs. Continuing education is required to maintain certification.


In 2002, surgical technologists held about 72,000 jobs. 75% worked in hospitals, mostly in operating and delivery rooms. Most of the rest worked in offices of physicians.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of surgical technologists is expected to increase faster than the average. As the population ages (mainly due to aging baby boomers), the number of surgical operations performed will increase. Technological advances, such as fiber optics and laser technology, will also increase the number of surgeries. Job opportunities will be good, with the highest employment growth occurring in offices of physicians.

For more information on becoming a surgical technologist, please see our directory of schools offering Surgical Technologist Schools