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What does a Surgical Technician do?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A surgical technician, also called a surgical technologist, is a trained professional whose job is extremely important to people undergoing surgery. The roles of a surgical technician may vary among countries and even between medical facilities within a country. Surgical technicians complete special training, usually lasting from about one to two years, either at community or trade colleges. They may also be certified through various agencies, and take examinations after completing school to get certification.

Before Surgery

Surgical tools during operation.
Surgical tools during operation.

One of the most important aspects of many surgical technician jobs is learning how to prepare operating rooms so that they are sterile, which helps lower the rate of infection in patients. In general, surgical techs don't actually clean up the operating rooms; this is left to maintenance staff. Surgical techs may oversee cleaning and prepare and sterilize all instruments that might be needed in an operation. They may also help prepare a patient for surgery, including shaving, cleaning, and disinfecting surgery sites.

During Surgery

Surgical technicians sterilize instruments, prepare operating rooms and make sure that monitoring and other equipment is in working order.
Surgical technicians sterilize instruments, prepare operating rooms and make sure that monitoring and other equipment is in working order.

During actual surgeries the surgical technician is on hand to assist in a variety of roles. Techs must be able to follow directions accurately, quickly and carefully, so they need familiarity with the names of the many instruments a surgeon might require during an operation. Due to the fact that the surgical technician is usually present during operations, tolerance for seeing open surgeries is important.

A surgical technician may help the medical team put on their gloves.
A surgical technician may help the medical team put on their gloves.

The surgical technician may help to prep surgeons and nurses to go into the sterile environment, and they support the surgeon by supplying her with anything she might need. In some cases, techs may assist by helping surgeons put on operating room clothing, gloves, and caps, so that after a surgeon has fully scrubbed, she remains completely sterile before entering the operating room. As surgery progresses, the surgical tech watches to be sure no one has violated sterile procedures.

The surgical technician is often responsible for removing all instruments used during the procedure.
The surgical technician is often responsible for removing all instruments used during the procedure.

Depending on the type of surgery being performed, a surgical technician may be required to stand in one place for long periods of time. It's important that he or she remain alert during the entire procedure to help ensure patient safety. He or she may also help take care of specimens, assist with dressings, and prepare medication.

After Surgery

After surgery, the tech is often responsible for removing all used instruments. He or she is usually expected to make sure the equipment is maintained and cared for properly. He or she may also be responsible for making sure the operating room is ready for the next patient.

Before and after surgery, a surgical technician may assist with the transportation of patients to and from the operating room, although this is not true in all hospitals. He or she may deliver charts with a physician's orders, and may arrange for the type of room or location in a hospital to which a patient needs transport.

Career Advancement

Some people choose to work as a surgical technician for many years, while for others, it may be a first step toward other healthcare positions. A senior technician, for example, may supervise other technicians and help to train staff. Technicians may also choose to specialize in a particular area, such as open heart surgery, and advance in this way. With additional training — through a degree program or on the job — a surgical technician may take on the job of a surgical assistant. These healthcare professionals are more directly involved in the actual surgery, helping the surgeon with suctioning, suturing, and other tasks.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent PracticalAdultInsights contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent PracticalAdultInsights contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


I need to find out what call pay is around the country -- what basic call standby per hour just to be on call.


I have been a surgical tech for almost eight years now. I am certified and part of an open heart team in Southern California. I started at $14 and am now making $27. With extra call I make 90-100k a year. Push yourself to be the best and you can move up quickly in this field, but you have to be dedicated.


In the San Francisco/Oakland Bay area, techs start out at $29-$40 per hour and have great shift differentials and make half time while on call. Techs make about $90-100k a year here with call. It's easy money. I've been a tech for 1.5 years now and already I'm at $36 per hour. So it's all about location, too!


I have worked as an ST for over 16 years. It's great. I love my job and I love taking care of people and helping them in the way that I do. This is a great career, and I would tell anyone to do this no matter your age. If you enjoy taking care of others, do this.

There will always be some person that thinks they are better than you, but in this job, helping people is being bigger and better then those who are not.

There are other places you can go, there are other opportunities to work and there are many great people to work with. Having a strong desire to help others, strong principles, a good work ethic, willing to learn and keep learning be a ST is a great way to do it.

Research what you want to do and do it. Money is good depending on where you live, but this is a growing field. This is one great job good luck to those that go for it.


There is a difference between surgical technician and surgical assisting. Surgical assistants have Bachelor's Degrees and can assist the doctor in suturing, with caths, etc. Surgical tech's do not and should not perform such tasks.

The surgical assistant program is anywhere from 10 to 22 months.The surgical assistant can make anywhere from 55,000 on up. Check out the CAAHEP website for more info and accredited programs.


I called the office of professions and they advised me that in New York, Surgical Techs do not catheterize patients and should not, as the doctor can be penalized.


I looked into both surgical tech and RN nursing programs. Most people say, "Go to school for nursing because that's where the money is and RN's can do a surgical tech job and blah blah." Someone else told me, "Would you rather take care of a patient that is awake or asleep?" So it's your own personal opinion of which is better.

I would rather be a surgical tech. Any job you go to someone will treat you like they are better. You have to be proud of what you do and sometimes take crap from people "higher up" such as the surgeons. I'm going to school to be a surgical tech and no one will make me change my mind!


I am greatly perplexed to see that ST vs RN is an issue. I am an ST by trade but through merit, hard work and dedication have been promoted to the following (in order) Administrative Director of Surgical Services, ASC Administrator, Administrative Director of Acute Care and most recently, co-CEO of a hospital. Not to mention owning three different companies that generate "happy" revenue.

Basically, stop talking, complaining, contemplating and just do it. And, I still have a few years until I turn 40. Work! Work hard! Be the example!


I am 45 and just started my surgical technology classes. Some of my peers were trying to discourage me from continuing, saying I am too old(?), nearsighted, overweight and can't stand for a long time. True, I've had my share of health problems in the past two years, but it is starting to look better, so I see no reason to drop from school just because they think I won't be able to stand for so long at work.

I am exercising and trying to get my health in check before I am out there to get a job. But I keep getting discouraged, not just by my peers, but my family as well. Anyone can help me with advice? I know I will keep going because it is something I always wanted to do but had no chance. I just want to hear what other people in my position would do. Thank you.


I am an instructor for a Surgical Technology Program and we do teach catheterization and the circulating role per AST guidelines. So it is not outside of the scope of practice for a Surgical Tech to do this, vitals etc. It is a required check off within the program.


I am currently going to school for an associates degree as a Surgical Technician. I am 51 years old. I have a degree and have been working in the computer field for a large corporation making twice the money I would make as a S.T.

I want to retire from this job and work in a hospital as a S.T for the work, not the money, as this is obvious. I just hope a hospital will hire me at my age.


I want to go to school for this but I'm not sure yet. It seems really cool. Do you have to be good at math?


I have been a surgical tech for 23 years now, and only now am I making $26 an hour. I started out in 1988 at $6.72 an hour. I can put in a foley, prep, etc. It's not rocket science. I see so many of our long time nurses prepping wrong. You never wash the armpit and then go back over the shoulder for a rotator cuff surgery.

Anyway, we are a team and it helps when both parties act like it. The "me nurse you tech" nonsense doesn't fly and the "I hate nurses" mantra gets old. If both "camps" would treat each other decently, there wouldn't be a rivalry. And I was in Springfield drumming up support for ST's to possess licenses. Not sure when that will come about, though.


Nurses and OR techs have different job descriptions. One is not better than the other. Just different. Working together and utilizing each others strengths is what makes a good team and provides the best patient safety. I've been a nurse over 27 years and would not want to be a surgical tech.

It is hard work having to stay in one position, not being able to drink or eat for long hours, not to mention having to go to the bathroom. However, I am running my butt off doing all other sorts of things which do not allow me to sit, stand still, drink or go to the bathroom when I need to either. Just because I am not scrubbed in, doesn't mean I am doing nothing.

I am so busy that I sweat too. To all ST's, value your nurses: stay humble yet professional and we can all work together to create a great atmosphere of safety.


to the lady who said a scrub tech's salary tops out at $20-$25 an hour, that's where i started. i started out at $20 an hour, so it depends on where you live and what type of place you work at. I've been a scrub tech for two years now and am making $22 an hour. i live in palm beach gardens florida.


you get use to it. Have you ever been scrubbed in, with gowns, cloves, hat and mask on? Once you put all of that on, you don't even notice! Surgical procedures done on children require the temp of the OR to be a lot higher. I've actually broke a sweat before during a pediatric case.


Would it be safe to say, surgical techs don't mind working in cold environments" OR rms are really cold. That's my biggest concern.


like that anon said, some of you are right and some of you are wrong. Some of what she said was right and some of what she said is wrong. Any scrub who has worked for 12 years and not put a catheter in hasn't participated in too many surgeries.

Yes, most of the time your circulator does it, but in the middle of surgery, if the doctor thinks your patient needs one and its in the sterile field, who do you think does it? the scrub tech.

I went to a two-year program and we learned how to put catheters in. $12 an hour? are you crazy? i made $12 an hour before I started the scrub tech program. It all depends on where you live and what area you work in, but any scrub tech who's getting paid $12 an hour should find another doctor or hospital to work for.

As a scrub tech you are under the supervision of doctors and nurses, but the nurses do run around helping you get things for the procedure while you assist the doctor. Scrubs are no better than RNs and RNs are no better than scrubs. You both work together to have the best patient care.

So all these people who are trying to say one is better than the other obviously aren't focused in the big picture.

Money wise, you probably can make more money as an RN, but that's when you have to decide what you want and what makes you happy. I love being a scrub tech and I will say I've never made an incision or helped do the surgery. Whoever posted that is crazy and that's the best way to ruin what you worked for in school. Not only will you be sued for something like that, no one will ever hire you again!

If anyone is interested in surgical technology, but can't make up their mind, call a local hospital and see if they have a program where you can go and shadow a surgical tech for the day!


I'm thinking about going to school for this, but is it the right decision and career? will it take care of me and my future family income wise? will it be hard to find a job?


i am going to school for this. It is so cool!


how much would i get paid?


CRNA, you need to work at another hospital because you must work where there are a lot of residents in which case they do a lot of work that the technologist is trained to do.

I am insulted when people call us technicians. Technicians are people who are taught in hospitals, and do not have a degree. A technologist has an AAS and has studied all areas of surgery. I do ortho, transplant and vascular surgeries and I do all of the above and more. Nurses in the OR do computer work and the very little patient care that is needed in the OR but that is it!

When it comes to CNA's I would rather have them than the anesthesiologist or their residents put me to sleep. They are much better, but would you want to be described as their subordinate? Well you aren't and they will never see you as more than a nurse, nothing more!

Ninety percent of the nurses in the field right now only have an associates so please do not act like we didn't work just as hard to get ours!

You will get out of school what you put into it, and the schools are not as good as they should be because people do not take it seriously.

I was lucky to have a surgeon who has had 40 years of general oncology surgery to be my director and teacher and he loved what we do and knows how important we are! He fights all year for us to get the recognition we deserve. I would like you to scrub a total joint; it wouldn't happen. We are surgeons' assistants and do not do patient care so we do not work under nurses for that fact alone!

We work under surgeons and it is not your place to question a doctor who has more education (since you put the emphasis on this) than you, and yes, we do do foleys regularly. We are trained for this. You need to read our training text from the AST before you make such an uniformed statement.

Trust me: we know way more about prepping than the resident who gets no training on this and they never do it right! I work at a level one trauma center in detroit and you must work at a fluffy surgery center or some upscale catering hospital that has no trauma.

We do not get paid what we should and it is a fact but once they get the law, that AORN has been trying to block for years, (that all surgical technologists be certified) passed, we will get the raise we deserve.

You need to read a little more about nursing history because they were treated the same way we are being treated now. We cannot be licensed because AORN doesn't want the OR nurse to become obsolete and they would be out of a job! We are not nursing assistants (they do not have a degree), we are not some under educated idiots. We learn all aspects of surgery and can tell you what the surgeon is doing at any time. We know what anastomosis they are doing and why. How many nurses in the OR can tell you that?

Nor can a CRNA tell you how to do a total joint surgery or a liver transplant step by step but I can! Good luck to all who are going to school and have pride in what you are!


A surgical tech will never change a surgical cap or even touch a surgical cap during a procedure. It is not sterile. This is basic surgery 101.


A technician's pay is based on multiple factors. The state you live in is huge due to cost of living. Example: i get paid more starting in california than i do in nebraska. It also depends on what specialty you work in if any.

If you work in private practice like plastics or eyes, you will get paid less than a surgery center or a hospital, (the hospital probably being the best salary wise.) The next thing is your experience or work ethic. If you work hard you get paid more simply put.

I have been a tech for almost four years now. I started in plastics at 18 dollars an hour. I am now in a surgery center making $26.20. The great thing for me is that i don't have on call shifts, nights or weekends except for occasional training.

Sometimes we work from 12 hour shifts and sometimes three-hour shifts. i like the flexibility of this. even with slow times I've still managed to make $40,000 plus in 08 and $50,000 plus in 09. I think my income increased by about $7,000 dollars in one year!

The hardest part is getting your foot in the door to get a job. if you are valuable from that point on, the managers will make exceptions to keep you in high spirits.

hope this helps.


what's the salary of a surgical tech?


O.K. to all the above anons, I have been a surgical technician and in the O.R. for over 12 plus years. I have been there and done that on just about every service there is known to man. Some of you are right and some of you are wrong. For one thing, an ORT is not suppose to go beyond his/her scope of practice. Meaning you went to school to pass instrumentation, basically. You learned the body inside and out. And technically you belong on one end of the table to only pass instruments to the surgeon.

Secondly, you have to learn how to anticipate what the surgeon needs and not what he asked for most of the time. As you gain experience people begin to trust you and how quickly you learn procedures. From a simple xlap to a CABG or a fx tibia to a total joint. I have done all the above over the years and I can replace a knee in 30 minutes with the best in orthopedic surgery.

Third, you are only as good as how fast you learn. No, we are not to put in foley catheters or close a wound, make an incision, or cauterize a bleeding vessel, but we have and I have and only because we work with people who trust us as Surgical Techs. And they know us and have worked with us for years.

No, we are not gurney pushers or patient preppers, lol. But technicians who help surgeons operate to a certain point and that's it. Now whatever you do beyond that point is on you. An ORT is the last one to break scrub and leave the room when the case is over, and depending on the procedure, your back table and mayo stand are not broken down until the patient is awake and extubated. Just in case something goes wrong, you are still ready.

So what are you doing pushing patients out of the room? To be a good tech, you have to be humble, again learn to anticipate, pay attention to detail, have your room opened and ready before the patient comes in the room, have all instruments and sterile supplies opened according to the preference card, and just know your job like the back of your hand.

Always be prepared and don't let your CNOR run for stuff you should already have. Surgeons hate to wait for something that should be there and they will let you know and tell your OR supervisor why his case was delayed.

The pay range is about right. You should make, fresh out of school, $12 to $13 an hour and as time goes on and you gain experience you should top out between $20 to $25 an hour. I know this for a fact because it's where I am now.

All this comes with hard work and dedication to one's job and willingness to learn and take the heat, because it can get hot with the unruly surgeons who think they're the stuff!

You can be all you can be with this career and use it as a stepping stone. If you really like being on the other end of the table and you're working with surgeons who trust you to let you do things you should otherwise not be doing, then become an RNFA (Registered Nurse First Assist) or a P.A. (Physicians Assistant) I know of a few techs who have gone on to be either of the two, and are making good money and with that comes great responsibility.

Just be prepared for long hours and long days, depending on who you work for at that point. So for whatever it is worth to you all, this is keeping it real about a surgical technician.

Some of you will do the job out of compassion to help others in sickness and be compensated for all your efforts.

Some of you will do it for the money you make in the long run and a means to survive in this sickening economy and really, there is nothing wrong with either if you don't BS yourself, because you can fall on your face with it from trying to do too much.

This job is all about who you know. Do a good job and some surgeon might want to have you work in his private practice. This job has its benefits as well, and you can most certainly travel as a surgical tech and really make some money and be in some cool places. You got action at it and it's all on you and how you apply yourself to what you are doing.

Don't get me wrong, being an ORT also has its ups and downs to. So you can't give in to the crap either or they will eat you up and spit you out because you don't taste right. But they do need us to run the room and I have seen RNs scrub in on cases too, and you've got to know, it was the RNs who scrubbed cases before there was ever a surgical technician.

It's a cool job to have and I have benefited from all my hard work doing this job and so will you. Just keeping it real for us ORTs.


I took my certification exam after one year of school. As long as you go to a school that is accredited you can take the exam after graduating. By the way, I have never wheeled a patient into the room either. I'm usually scrubbed in and preparing when this is done.


I'm a tech and I anchor foley caths all day long --it's not rocket science. Get off your high horse! And by the way, some people actually become a tech for reasons other than money. What do you mean by you have never seen a tech hands on in surgery? We assist on a regular basis and close.

I'm sorry to be so snippy but I'm tired of this attitude that we techs are always getting from nurses. I could say much more but I'm not going to waste my time.


I never post on these, because they are no win and partial to the field the site is speaking of, which in this case is O.R. techs. But I agree with the navy tech the most.

I work as a CRNA at USC hospital, the busiest in the state of CA. I see O.R. techs 12 hours a day 3 days a week. I have never seen them do hands on surgery as one spoke of or put in a catheter. If this was to happen right after surgery I would be having a talk with the Doc and ask politely if he's going to pay the malpractice suit. Because we will all go down as a team. Forget that I didn't have to spend six years in school to know that!

Scrub techs are very needed and serve as a vital member of our team but there's a reason the doc went to school for 10 plus years the nurse first assist four or so years and a to make a CRNA takes six to seven years. It is what it is and you just can't compare.

Again scrub tech is a great job for some and damn good money, so do your research and go to the school or a teaching hospital and see if you can watch via the bubble.


anon, i totally agree about this article. I have never transported a patient or cleaned instruments. A surg tech is not just there if the doctor needs them.

My experience has been great but the pay and acknowledgement a tech gets is inhumane. I have actually done more hands on surgery than med students or residents. Some places and some doctors just use you as an instrument tech but in my experience, like i said, i do a lot of the surgery. I often close, irrigate, retract, keep all record of monitors and tell nurse.

An O.R nurse never is scrubbed in and never is in on the surgery. They chart and get stuff that may be needed for the surgery. The tech is responsible for getting room ready for next patient, making the bed, getting all mechanical devices set up and all extra equipment, put together all the equipment, make sure all is pulled according to surgeons preference card, that all furniture is in position for certain procedures.

A tech must know every step of every surgical procedure and all that goes along with it. A tech opens all sterile supplies scrubs in arranges and sets up for surgery gowns and gloves all other team members and most the time i have to break scrub to put in a catheter and prep and for certain patients' special needs are considered and applied. Basically, where i live, techs run the O.R., even when the doctor is in. Very under paid and not enough praise is given.

Honestly without a surg tech can a hospital smoothly do surgeries and can a doc do surgery? i am disgusted with the amount techs make.

School should be much longer and its just a screwed up situation but i you like to do surgery and think you will never be a surgeon. This is the next best thing to do.


to anon58040: it's not always about money! nowadays, RNs really do a lot of charting, and it's not patient care like it used to be. for some people, surgical tech is a good way to get their foot in the door! and quite frankly, anything in the medical field is important.


Look, i have worked in a hospital for over 27 years. surgical techs are not LVN or RN. yes they are very important to us in the OR. their jobs are limited to the schooling they have. if you want to really work in the or, become a RN or Lvn. that's where the money is. Be careful -- schools don't always tell you everything. good luck


To anon35983: I am a Surg tech for the US Navy, certified in eight specialties, and have been working for six years. I have wheeled the patient into the OR almost every day since I started.

I also wheel the patient out, write out narcotics prescriptions, and fill out procedure notes. This description is 100 percent accurate (at least for those of us that have been doing this for a decent amount of time). Don't bash these things simply because you lack the experience.

To everyone else, I love my job and wouldn't trade it for anything else. I'm in the Navy, so I make a bit more than 40,000, but that is completely different. I have assisted with surgeries in Cambodia, Thailand, Timor-Liste, Viet Nam, Papau New Guinea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Great Britain, Ireland, Russia, and many more countries in South America. I would recommend this job to anyone.


I'm going to school to be a surgical tech.


i'm going to school to become one!! :)


I have been in school for 16 months and it is the best thing I have done. Looking forward to being done in May 2010 so I can start my new career.


anywhere from $10/hour to $30/hour, based on expertise, and area of expertise.


What is the salary of a surgical tech?


Thank you anon35983. I was trying to find out info on exactly what a surgi tech does. Because i want to go to school for it. Now my next question, What is the starting pay?


anon35983 - Do you like your job as a surgical tech? Are their any more avenues you can take with your experience and education to further yourself in another field?


What is the salary of a surgical tech?

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    • Surgical tools during operation.
      By: Tobilander
      Surgical tools during operation.
    • Surgical technicians sterilize instruments, prepare operating rooms and make sure that monitoring and other equipment is in working order.
      By: muratolmez
      Surgical technicians sterilize instruments, prepare operating rooms and make sure that monitoring and other equipment is in working order.
    • A surgical technician may help the medical team put on their gloves.
      By: Remains
      A surgical technician may help the medical team put on their gloves.
    • The surgical technician is often responsible for removing all instruments used during the procedure.
      By: redcarpett
      The surgical technician is often responsible for removing all instruments used during the procedure.