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Surgical technologist salary & career outlook

Of all the medical care a patient receives in his or her lifetime, nothing has higher stakes or higher potential rewards than surgery. Surgical technologists are an essential part of the team of people who work together to ensure that surgeries go smoothly, with the best possible outcome for the patient. As a surgical technologist, you will assist doctors and nurses by helping to prepare operating rooms, organize equipment, and offer other necessary support.

What surgical technologists do

Most surgical technologists work for hospitals, and most work full-time. They may be required to work shifts longer than eight hours, or to work or be on call during nights, weekends or holidays. Their job duties may include:

- Setting up operating rooms before surgeries
- Preparing surgical equipment by sterilizing it and making sure necessary supplies are available
- Getting patients ready for surgery by washing and disinfecting incision sites
- Providing doctors and nurses with necessary supplies during surgery

How to become a surgical technologist

Different states have different requirements for surgical technologists, but positions generally require some sort of postsecondary education, generally either an associate degree or a certificate. Accredited programs for surgical technologists are available at many community colleges and vocational schools, and can last anywhere from several months to two years.

Students for whom outside work or family commitments make completing a traditional program difficult may want to consider an online program for surgical technologists. Online schools can prepare students for surgical technologist positions while offering greater flexibility and accessibility than campus-based programs.

Surgical technologist salary trends

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgical technologists in the U.S. made a mean annual salary of $43,480 in 2012, while the top 10 percent of earners made a median annual salary of $60,240 (bls.gov/oes, 2012). General medical and surgical hospitals employed the highest number of surgical technologists, although offices of health practitioners (not including physicians or dentists) paid the highest salaries, with a mean annual wage of $51,900.

States in the western U.S. offered the highest salaries to surgical technologists as of May 2012, ranging from $52,830 to $54,750. The five highest-paying states for surgical technologists in 2012, along with their respective mean annual wages, include:

1. California ($54,750)
2. Nevada ($53,990)
3. Alaska ($53,640)
4. Hawaii ($53,440)
5. Connecticut ($52,830)

The five top-paying metropolitan areas in the U.S. for surgical technologists in 2012 were all located in northern California. They included:

1. Vallejo-Fairfield, CA ($70,520 mean annual wage)
2. Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA metropolitan division ($67,210)
3. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA ($62,640)
4. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, CA ($62,220)
5. San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA ($61,690)

Non-metropolitan areas with the highest salaries for surgical technologists in 2012 included the Northern Mountains region of California ($56,460 mean annual wage), the Mother Lode region of California ($53,060), the North Coast region of California ($51,550), the North Central Oregon area ($49,060), and the Northwestern Washington area ($48,610).

Career outlook for surgical technologists

The BLS projects that job opportunities for surgical technologists will increase at a rate of 19 percent between 2010 and 2020, slightly above the average rate of 14 percent across all occupations (bls.gov/ooh, 2013). As improvements in medical technology continue to make surgery safer, it will be used more and more as a tool for treating illnesses and injuries

Like other healthcare professions, surgical technologists will benefit from the fact that aging baby boomers will create a higher demand for medical services over the next decade. Advancements in medical technology and an aging baby boomer population should make surgeries more common, leading to an increased demand for surgical technologists.