Surgical Technician vs. Surgical Technologist
Allied Health

Surgical Technician vs. Surgical Technologist: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve been considering a healthcare career in surgical technology, understanding the differences between a surgical technician vs. surgical technologist is crucial. Although these titles are often used interchangeably, key distinctions set them apart, including education requirements, certifications, responsibilities and roles in the operating room. Let’s delve into the distinct scopes of these roles to ensure you fully grasp their unique contributions in the operating room and help you choose which path is right for your career ambitions and salary expectations.

Who’s Part of the Surgical Team?

It takes a team to run a surgical suite smoothly. Surgical technicians and technologists are valued surgical team members, along with several supporting healthcare professionals (HCPs), they help ensure a successful operation. Although the surgeon is the team lead, HCPs in supporting roles perform vital tasks, such as maintaining a sterile field and sterile techniques, ensuring patient’s health and safety, accounting for instruments and materials throughout surgeries and handing the surgeon tools. 

Along with the surgeon, a surgical team includes all or some of the following healthcare professionals:

What’s the Difference Between a Surgical Technician and a Surgical Technologist?

The main difference between these two roles is their level of education and scope of practice. Both roles work predominantly in hospital settings, surgical centers and outpatient clinics and play integral parts in supporting surgical procedures. Whether it’s assisting the surgical team before, during or after surgery, surgical technologists and technicians contribute positively to patient care and surgical outcomes. While both roles are crucial in ensuring smooth surgical operations, the technologist has a broader skill set and may be involved in more complex procedures. The sections below provide comprehensive details on how these two roles differ.

Responsibilities of a Surgical Technician vs. Surgical Technologist

Surgical Technologist

Surgical technicians and technologists work in operating room settings, typically within a hospital equipped with these facilities. Both roles share the duty of preparing and arranging surgical suites, readying instruments and passing equipment during surgery. Each role contributes uniquely to efficient and safe surgical operations.

Surgical technicians primarily assist nurses and surgical technologists during procedures, sterilize instruments, interact with patients for comfort, inform family members about patient status and complete other assigned tasks.

Surgical technologists play a more advanced role in the operating room. Their job is to anticipate the surgeon’s needs, apply dressings post-operation, maintain cleanliness, assist with surgeon attire to reduce contamination, monitor patient vitals and prepare patients for surgery. 

Education and Credential Differences Between Surgical Technicians vs. Technologists 

Embarking on a career as a surgical technician or technologist takes less time compared to other allied health professions. The opportunity to secure a competitive salary reasonably quickly is a compelling reason to pursue a career in this field.

  • Surgical Technicians complete on-the-job training or a short certificate program focusing on basic skills. Technical schools and community colleges usually provide this education, which includes a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on learning. There aren’t any certifications or state licensure requirements for surgical technicians.
  • Surgical Technologists complete a 12-month certificate program or two-year associate degree in surgical technology with a focus on medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, biomedical ethics and principles of surgical technology. After finishing an accredited program, you may become certified by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting to become a certified surgical technologist. Certification shows your dedication to the craft and adherence to continued education, standards and accountability. 

Only some states require certification, but it’s a good idea as it puts you ahead of the crowd and at the top of job prospects. The Association of Surgical Technologists advocates for a federal approach and consistency regarding certification and license registration in the field. As of March 2024, the following states have laws regarding registration and certification:

  • Connecticut
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia

The following states have laws regarding registration but not certification:

  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • North Dakota
  • Washington

Advancement Opportunities

Surgical Technicians may advance to senior technician positions or specialize in specific surgical areas. With further education, the next step would be to pursue an associate degree to become a surgical technologist and further advance to a certified surgical technologist. 

Surgical Technologists have greater opportunities for career advancement in leadership or teaching or by transitioning to related fields like Surgical First Assistant or healthcare management. Surgical technologists may advance to supervisory or managerial roles within surgical departments or healthcare facilities. Specialization in specific surgical areas, such as cardiovascular or orthopedic surgery, not only deepens their knowledge but also enhances their value in the healthcare industry, opening doors to diverse career opportunities and professional growth.

Surgical Technician vs. Surgical Technologist Salary

General Surgery NP or RN in operating room / certified surgical technologist in OR

In comparing surgical technician vs. surgical technologist salaries, it’s crucial to understand that while both positions play vital roles in the operating room, their responsibilities and contributions differ. Surgical technicians typically earn a lower salary due to having less responsibility and training. Conversely, surgical technologists and certified surgical technologists have more advanced roles, often commanding a higher salary. 

Related: Highest-Paid Surgical Technology Specialists in 2024

Salaries for these roles vary depending on education, location and demand. Based on salary data from Vivian Health on March 4, 2024, a brief overview shows us that certified surgical technologists in staff roles made up to $100 an hour in Maryland and $76 an hour in New York. Travel surgical technologists in Colorado earned an average weekly wage of $2,207 with a maximum weekly salary of $3,015.

Surgical technicians in Hawaii and Michigan staff roles earned a higher-than-average salary of $40 to $45 an hour during the same period. Again, Colorado was a high-paying state, with travel surgical technicians making a weekly wage of $3,073. Washington wasn’t far behind, with a maximum weekly travel wage of $3,042 for surgical technicians. 

The table below compares the average staff and travel salaries for surgical technicians, surgical technologists and certified surgical technologists nationwide in early March 2024. 

Average Staff Salary Average Travel Salary
Surgical Technician $32.92 $1,921
Surgical Technologist $33.16 $1,958
Certified Surgical Technologist $34.90 $1,957

Job Prospects and Demand

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for surgical assistants and technologists should grow by 5% from 2022 to 2032. This surge in demand surpasses the average for most occupations, translating to an estimated addition of 8,600 jobs annually. Aspiring professionals can anticipate a wealth of opportunities, making the surgical technology field an exciting and promising avenue for those entering the healthcare industry.

The table below shows job availability on Vivian’s jobs marketplace as of March 4, 2024, where new jobs are added hourly.

Staff Roles Travel Jobs
Surgical Technician 29 247
Surgical Technologist 140 1,011
Certified Surgical Technologist 115 730

If you’ve been seeking an allied health profession that aligns with the booming demand in the healthcare sector, offers a relatively quick educational path, ample room for career growth and the potential for increased salaries and job security, consider embarking on a career as a surgical technician or technologist. Both roles offer exciting opportunities for those looking to make a meaningful impact in healthcare while enjoying rewarding career prospects.

After learning the differences between surgical technicians and technologists, it’s time to take the next step in your career journey. Start exploring jobs on Vivian Health to discover exciting opportunities in the surgical field and take your career to new heights. 

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Amanda Farquharson, BSN, RN

Amanda Farquharson, BSN, RN is a registered nurse, travel nurse, writer and wellness warrior. She practices from a holistic lens with a focus on health promotion and prevention. Amanda has been actively engaged with the wellness community for over 15 years, supporting and developing activities that strengthen individuals' and communities' emotional, mental, spiritual and physical health.

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