If you’re seeking a career in the healthcare field that offers job security, above-average earning potential, plenty of opportunities for advancement and a chance to make a difference every day, then becoming a certified surgical technologist could be the right allied health specialty for you. Take an in-depth look at the role of a certified surgical technologist, including the job outlook, skills and licensure requirements, benefits and average salary, to make an informed decision about this lucrative career.
The Role of a Certified Surgical Technologist
Certified surgical technologists are vital healthcare team members during surgeries. They work in the operating room alongside nurses and surgeons, completing tasks that allow other team members to focus on the surgical procedures.
Before surgeries, a technologist prepares the operating suite, sterilizes equipment, and ensures all necessary supplies are stocked. They often prepare patients for surgery by washing, shaving and disinfecting incision sites. During procedures, they pass instruments and prepare solutions and medications as needed. Certified surgical technologists also count supplies before and after surgeries to ensure no foreign objects are accidentally left inside patients.
Demand and Outlook for Certified Surgical Technologists
At the beginning of January 2023, Vivian Health had numerous permanent certified surgical technologist positions listed. Per the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for surgical technologists will likely grow by 6% through 2023, about average compared to all other occupations nationwide.
Each year through 2031, the BLS anticipates 9,600 certified surgical technologist job openings across the United States. These jobs will likely be a mix of newly created positions and new hires to replace allied health professionals who retired, left the labor force or changed employers or specialties.
Benefits of a Certified Surgical Technologist Job
There are many reasons to consider becoming a certified surgical technologist. Some of the top benefits include the following.
Shorter Training Period
Most surgical technologist training programs last only 2 years, allowing you to enter the workforce faster than if you entered a job that requires a four-year degree or graduate-level education. Less time in school also means less money spent on your education.
Ease of Finding a Job
With the growing demand for certified surgical technologists, jobs should be plentiful. Job security is one of the top reasons many people enter healthcare.
Ability to Travel
Certified surgical technologist travel jobs allow you to visit new places and learn new skills in new environments. Because surgical technologies continue to develop, travel jobs also enable you to gain exposure to the latest methods and tools.
Attractive Total Compensation
In addition to a competitive salary, permanent certified surgical technologist positions often come with various benefits. These may include health insurance, like medical, dental and vision, paid vacation time, retirement plans and life insurance.
Chances for Advancement
As you gain experience, education and/or certification, you may have the opportunity to move into positions that require more responsibility, such as First Surgical Assistant. Over time, you may be able to move up to supervisory roles. Each step up the career ladder generally offers a bump in your certified surgical technologist salary.
Exciting Job Environment
The operating room is a fast-paced environment, and what you do may vary from day to day. As a result, you’re less likely to feel bored and may find that your workdays fly by.
Working as a certified surgical technologist allows you to make a real difference in the health of patients. With each successful procedure, you get the satisfaction of knowing you helped improve someone else’s quality of life.
Licensing Requirements for Certified Surgical Technologist Work
Most employers prefer to hire surgical technologists who hold professional certifications. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) administers the Certifed Surgical Technologist (CST) and the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) administers the Tech in Surgery (TS-C) certification programs for surgical technologists.
Both the NBSTSA and NCCT require prospective certified surgical technologists to complete an accredited training program that results in a diploma or certificate of completion. Typically, these programs last 2 years and may award an associate degree.
The TS-C also requires three years of verifiable full-time experience as a surgical technologist within the past five years. The TS-C and CST both require an application fee and passing an examination to become certified.
The requirements for certified surgical technologist jobs vary by state. Arkansas is the only state requiring technologists to register with the state, sometimes called licensure. Registration requires NBSTSA or NCCT certification.
Although registration isn’t required, surgical technologists must be NBSTSA certified in Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. They must also be certified in New York by a nationally-accredited credentialing organization, and the NBSTSA qualifies.
Important Skills and Attributes
Certain attributes and skills can contribute to success in certified surgical technologist jobs, including:
- Ability to adapt to change
- Ability to follow directions
- Active listening skills
- Arm-hand steadiness
- Attentiveness to detail
- Basic arithmetic skills
- Basic computer skills
- Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
- Observation skills
- Organizational skills
- Stress tolerance
Top Employers of Certified Surgical Technologists
More than 70% of certified surgical technologists work in general medical and surgical hospitals, according to the BLS. Outpatient care centers and physicians each employ another 10% of technologists. Dentist offices and specialty hospitals round out the top five largest employer types in the field.
Some top-paying employers for certified surgical technologist jobs on Vivian’s job postings in early January 2023 included:
- Inova Health System: A health system that serves Northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C. metro area boasts more than 20,000 employees
- Houston Methodist: A health system based in Houston, Texas, that includes nationally recognized academic medical center and six community hospitals
- CoreMedical Group: One of the largest healthcare staffing agencies in the country
- University of Miami Health: A health system with more than 16,000 employees located in Miami-Dade County, Florida
- Cross Country Search: A talent acquisition agency with four recruitment search businesses that connect nursing and allied health professionals with travel jobs
- Lee Health: One of the largest public health systems nationwide that’s located in South Florida and has more than 2 million patient contacts per year
- Moffitt Cancer Center: The only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center serving Florida, based in the Tampa Bay area
How Much Do Certified Surgical Technologists Make?
The average certified surgical technologist salary was $24.09 per hour, according to data from Vivian collected at the beginning of January 2023. This hourly salary equates to $50,110 per year based on a 40-hour workweek. However, Vivian’s data indicates the top 90th percentile earned $34.22 hourly, while the lowest 10% percentile earned $16.07.
Although it’s not among the top 10 highest-paying allied health specialties in late 2022, certified surgical technologist positions pay more on average than allied health roles requiring less education than an associate degree, such as a phlebotomist.
How much you can expect to earn in the field depends on your education, experience, location and certification. Refer to the table below for the states with the highest certified surgical technologist salary rates at the beginning of 2023.
|State||Average Salary Per Hour||Comparison to National Average Salary Per Hour|
|District of Columbia||$29.20||18% higher|
|Rhode Island||$27.90||14% higher|
|New York||$27.61||13% higher|
Source: Vivian Salary Tool
Continuing Education and Professional Development
To keep up with the fast pace of research and development, a certified surgical technologist needs ongoing training and education. Every 4 years, technologists must complete 60 continuing education credit hours to renew their certifications. Hospitals, colleges, universities and professional organizations provide in-person and online training, classes and seminars that fulfill these requirements.
Is Traveling Certified Surgical Technologist Work Stressful?
Due to the fast pace of operating rooms, certified surgical technologist work can be stressful anywhere. However, the proper training, skills and traits can help allied health professionals manage workplace stress.
Travel jobs may help reduce the stress of daily work. After all, you’re less likely to experience the burnout that may come with working in the same environment every day and dealing with office politics.
Challenges of a Certified Surgical Technologist Job
As with any allied health specialty, the role of certified surgical technologists has some challenges. Drawbacks to consider as you weigh career options include:
- Physically demanding work: Certified surgical technologists are on their feet most of the day and may need to move quickly to retrieve supplies and equipment. The job also involves lifting heavy trays.
- Intense work conditions: Technologists must deal with the sight of blood, unpleasant odors and bodily fluids. Stakes are often high during surgical procedures, which can make work stressful.
- Exposure to illnesses: As with any healthcare job, certified surgical technologists may be exposed to communicable diseases while performing their job duties.
- Night, weekend and holiday work: Emergency surgeries may occur at any time, and your position may require varying shifts or on-call rotations.
How to Grow Your Career
As a certified surgical technologist, you should continue to develop your knowledge and skills throughout your career to stay abreast of the latest innovations and keep yourself in demand as an employee. The actions you take can also help you secure higher-paying positions over time. Here are some ways that may help you advance in your career.
Join a Professional Organization
The Association of Surgical Technologists helps you connect with continuing education opportunities and provides valuable resources, including monthly e-newsletters. In addition, the organization hosts virtual and in-person events that allow you to network with other technologists.
Educate Yourself About the Job Market
You can’t get a high-paying job as a technologist if you don’t understand the current labor market. Track how much technologists typically earn in your area so you can negotiate better pay with your employer. If you’re ready for a change, you can also check job postings of other employers in the area to find a better-paying job.
Create a Vivian Candidate Profile
Create a Vivian Universal Profile to explore job listings for permanent and travel positions even further. You can research employers, read explorer reviews, compare certified surgical technologist salary rates across the country and learn about certifications. The Vivian app also allows you to keep all your applications and messages in one place, get instant notifications when jobs post that match your needs and connect with employers immediately through real-time chat.
Take Travel Positions
Travel positions often pay more than permanent staff posts. Working at different hospitals, outpatient centers and offices lets you learn new best practices. Taking travel positions also enables you to build a large network of contacts that could lead to lucrative permanent positions in the future.