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Surgical technologist salary & career outlook

The operating room is a high-stakes environment, and it takes a tightly coordinated team effort to ensure that everything goes according to plan. While surgeons and nurses tend to get the lion's share of the credit for successful surgical procedures, the vital support role played by surgical technologists is an indispensable part of a smoothly run operation.

What is a surgical technologist?

Surgical technologists support surgical teams in a number of ways. Tasks can differ for various positions and procedures, but general surgical technologist duties tend to include some variation on the following:

  • Preparing patients and operating rooms before surgery begins
  • Sterilizing instruments and ensuring adequate equipment supply
  • Assisting surgeons by passing them tools and supplies
  • Maintaining a sterile environment before, during and after an operation

Most surgical technologists work in hospitals, but some hold positions in outpatient care centers or the offices of physicians and dentists. A good bedside manner is a major plus, as are strong attention to detail and excellent stress-management skills.

How to become a surgical technologist

The Occupational Information Network (O*NET) indicates that approximately two in five surgical technologists enter the workforce with an associate degree. O*NET also reports that about 31 percent of workers in the field attend accredited surgical technologist schools for their training and earn a postsecondary certificate.

While it may be possible to find surgical technologist training online, such as through a medical technology degree, there is typically a hands-on clinical component to the curriculum. Students can expect to complete at least a portion of their training at a local school, affiliated clinic or teaching hospital.

Surgical technologist job outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects growth of 30 percent in employment opportunities nationwide for surgical technologists between 2012 and 2022, which is a rate much faster than the 11 percent average for all occupations and should lead to nearly 30,000 new positions in the field. The following states, which employed the highest numbers of surgical technologists in 2013, are also likely to see higher-than-average raw job gains in the next decade:

  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Ohio

In addition, Utah (41.8% projected growth), Arizona (36.8%) and Colorado (36.3%) are among the states expected to have strong job growth between 2010 and 2020, according to Projections Central. Candidates who have completed an accredited surgical technologist degree program should have the best job prospects in the coming years, the BLS reports.

Surgical technologist salary trends and information

Surgical technologists earned a 2013 nationwide mean annual salary of $44,420, according to the BLS, with the bottom-paid 10 percent earning $30,450 or less and the top-paid 10 percent taking home more than $61,300 for the year. Certain industries paid higher mean average surgical technologist salaries than others in 2013, as well:

  • Home health care services: $63,480
  • Offices of other health practitioners: $51,840
  • Colleges, universities and professional schools: $50,530
  • Individual and family services: $50,500
  • Specialty hospitals, except psychiatric and substance abuse: $48,660

Location can also influence your earning potential significantly, but earnings are really only half the story. Salary figures that seem perfectly comfortable can be quickly offset by sky-high living costs. According to data provided by the BLS and the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC), the following states are among the most favorable when it comes to the balance between surgical technologist income and local cost of living:

  • Indiana: $40,970; ranked 5th most affordable
  • Kansas: $40,170; ranked 6th most affordable
  • Nebraska: $40,910; ranked 7th most affordable
  • Texas: $43,840; ranked 12th most affordable
  • Wyoming: $45,000; ranked 14th most affordable

Employing industry and geographical location certainly factor into salary expectations, but education and experience are tried-and-true ways to bolster your earning potential. Learn more about local and online surgical technologist schools and degree programs and find out how they can help you find a rewarding career in the healthcare field.

Sources:

Cost of Living Data Series: First Quarter 2014, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Missouri Department of Economic Development, http://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/index.stm

Long Term Occupational Projections for Surgical Technologists, Projections Central,
http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm

Occupational Employment and Wages: Surgical Technologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292055.htm

Surgical Technologists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Surgical-technologists.htm