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Allied Health

Top 3 Highest-Paying Surgical Technologist Specialties

If you’re ready to kick your career into high gear, consider becoming a specialized surgical technologist. Specializing allows you to master new skills, work with teams of experienced professionals and boost your salary. You may also qualify for more surgical tech travel jobs, supercharging your earning power. If that sounds appealing, sit back and read this guide to the highest-paying surgical tech specialties. If you haven’t entered the field yet, you’ll also learn the education, licensing and certification requirements. Let’s start with three top-paying surgical tech specialties to consider.

1. CVOR Surgical Technologist

Cardiovascular operating room (CVOR) surgical techs play an essential role in the operating room. They set up for cardiovascular procedures, maintain the sterile field and handle instruments and supplies. This job typically requires at least 3 years of experience, so it pays more than nonspecialized surgical technologist roles.

According to Vivian Health’s salary data for the first of March, CVOR surgical technologist salaries averaged $28.66 per hour. If you work 40 hours a week, that’s an annual salary of about $59,613. A travel CVOR surgical technologist salary is even higher, averaging $2,511 weekly. That corresponds to a yearly salary of $97,929 if you complete three 13-week contracts each year. 

Some areas have higher average wages for travel CVOR surgical technologists but may have a lower maximum salary. Mississippi had the highest average on March 1, 2023, at $3,291, but its maximum salary of $3,539 was less than Washington’s $4,000. Conversely, Washington’s average weekly rate was more than $300 less than Mississippi’s at $2,903.

Some states frequently have significantly lower average CVOR surgical tech salaries but make up for them with lower living costs. Oklahoma, Florida and Texas have relatively low cost of living indexes, especially compared to states like California. Travel cardiovascular surgical techs earned an average of $2,440, $2,254 and $2,218 per week there, respectively.

The following table provides an overview of average and maximum salaries in various states on March 1, 2023.

State Avg Weekly Travel Salary Max Weekly Travel Salary
Mississippi $3,291 $3,539
Washington $2,903 $4,000
Massachusetts $2,890 $3,928
Oklahoma $2,440 $3,089
Florida $2,254 $2.991
Texas $2,218 $3,000

Source Vivian Health (March 1, 2023)

2. Certified Surgical Technologist

After completing the basic educational requirements to become a surgical technologist, obtaining a certification from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) is possible. Although certification is often optional, 12 states required NBSTSA certification in some capacity as of March 2023.

Certified surgical technologists (CSTs) perform the same duties as other surgical technologists, such as preparing the OR for surgeries, keeping track of supplies and passing instruments to surgeons. However, certification demonstrates their knowledge and skills in the role.

A review of Vivian Health’s salary data for the beginning of March 2023 indicated that CSTs earned an average of $24.09 per hour. Based on a 40-hour workweek, that hourly rate corresponds to an annual salary of around $50,107. Travel CST jobs paid an average of $2,209 per week, about $55.23 per hour for 40 hours worked weekly. If you completed three contracts lasting for 13 weeks each, you’d earn $86,159.

Travel CST salaries vary widely based on where you work. Surprisingly, California’s average is lower than the national average, coming in at $2,131 per week. Its neighbors to the north, Oregon and Washington, have average weekly salaries of $2,307 and $2,523, respectively. 

The following table provides averages of several other states.

State Average Weekly Travel Salary
West Virginia $2,694
South Dakota $2,691
Massachusetts $2,580
Texas $1,914
Florida $1,891
Oklahoma $1,709

Source: Vivian Health (March 1, 2023)

3. Endoscopy Technician

Endoscopy technicians perform similar surgical technologist tasks in an endoscopy suite. Their job duties include sterilizing scopes and other equipment, maintaining the sterile field, performing equipment maintenance, assisting physicians during procedures and conducting safety checks. Many endoscopy technicians work in hospitals, but standalone endoscopy centers, physician offices and specialty clinics also employ them.

Although some employers require an associate degree in surgical technology, you can become an endoscopy technician with a high school diploma, Basic Life Support certification and on-the-job training. The average salary for this specialty tends to be lower but still significant, with staff endoscopy technician salaries averaging $19.01 per hour, or $39,540 annually, per Vivian’s salary data on March 1, 2023.

Travel endoscopy tech salaries were much higher at $1,654 per week on average during this period. If you complete three 13-week contracts yearly, that’s an annual salary of $63,882. While this average was 44% lower than the national average for allied health professionals, many states are at or above the norm for the area.

Job Outlook for Surgical Technologists

Surgical technologist, surgical tech, surgery, operating room

Image by stefamerpik on Freepik

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of surgical technologist jobs available to increase by 6% between 2021 and 2031. More than 70% of surgical technologists work in state, local and private hospitals. Outpatient care centers and physician offices each account for 11% of all jobs in this field. Some surgical technologists even work in dental offices.

Benefits of Accepting Travel Surgical Technologist Assignments

While every surgical technologist job is rewarding in its unique way, you’ll discover many benefits to accepting travel contracts instead of a permanent position in this field. As you see from the salary differences outlined above, one of the main benefits is the opportunity to increase your earnings.

Besides seniority, staff jobs often require you to take on more responsibilities, complete additional educational requirements or obtain professional certifications to realize a significant pay increase. Accepting a travel surgical technologist job lets you earn more money doing the work you love from the start.

Travel jobs are also a lot more flexible than perm positions. When you accept a staff role, you usually must commit to a set schedule. Even the most generous employers only offer a few weeks of paid time off each year, making balancing your work life with your personal responsibilities more difficult. Travel contracts are short-term, giving you the opportunity to take a break between each one. For example, you could work for 13 weeks, take a month off, then sign up for another contract.

Additional benefits of accepting travel assignments include the following:

  • Perks: You may qualify for sign-on bonuses, housing stipends and other perks, making these contracts even more rewarding.
  • Skill Development: Getting stuck in a rut is common when you work at the same place for several years. You see the same people, work in the same ORs and perform the same tasks repeatedly. Travel jobs allow you to learn new skills, then apply them in varying workplaces.
  • Networking: Every time you begin an assignment, you meet other healthcare professionals who have the potential to become part of your network. You can exchange career tips and give each other support when needed.
  • Travel: When you take a short vacation, you don’t have much time to explore. Travel surgical technologist contracts last several weeks, allowing you to see the best each city offers.

Surgical Technologist Education and Licensing Requirements

To become a surgical technologist, you must complete a certificate or an associate degree in surgical technology. These programs typically include coursework in medical terminology, anatomy, microbiology and physiology. If you didn’t take many science courses during high school, you might have to take some prerequisites before a surgical technology program admits you.

Some states have specific requirements, including:

  • North Dakota requires you to register as a surgical technologist with the Unlicensed Assistive Person and Medication Assistant Registry, but there’s no professional licensure requirement.
  • Washington requires surgical technologists to register with the Department of Health and complete at least 7 hours of AIDS education.
  • Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies oversees surgical technologists in the Centennial State.
  • Arkansas, Illinois and Virginia give you the option of registering if you want to use the title “Registered Surgical Technologist.” Otherwise, you don’t need to obtain a professional license to work as a surgical technologist.

How to Increase Your Earnings as a Surgical Technologist

Surgical technologist, surgical tech, surgery, operating room

Image by stefamerpik on Freepik

Obtaining the Certified Surgical Technologist credential may help you increase your earnings. To prepare for the certification exam, ensure you understand what the test covers, which includes the following:

  • Perioperative care accounts for 52% of the exam questions, with dozens of subtopics, including verifying the availability of surgical equipment, using personal protective equipment, draping patients and applying monitoring devices.
  • The intraoperative procedures section accounts for just under 35% of the questions, with subtopics including maintaining the sterile field, identifying surgical instruments, assembling specialty equipment and verifying counts with the circulator.
  • The rest of the exam covers ancillary duties and basic science.

Pursuing a specialization is another way to increase your earnings. As you can see from the salary details above, CVOR surgical technologists earn over $4 more per hour than general surgical technologists with the CST certification. For travel jobs, the salary difference is $300 per week. If the cardiovascular specialty doesn’t appeal to you, consider specializing in pediatric surgical technology or becoming an OR scrub tech.

Finally, consider accepting travel contracts, even if you only want to travel for a year or two. To find the best fit, you must strike the right balance between your salary expectations and the availability of jobs. For example, if you have your heart set on working in a specific city, you may need to accept a slightly lower salary to land a contract. If you’re more flexible, you may be able to command a much higher salary due to the lack of experienced surgical technologists in some regions.

Start your search today by exploring the variety of travel surgical tech jobs available in facilities across the country.

Feature Photo: Image by stefamerpik on Freepik

Vivian Health

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