Allied Health

Where Do Certified Surgical Technologists Make the Most Money?

The healthcare industry offers numerous rewarding career paths, including opportunities for current and aspiring certified surgical technologists (CST). U.S. News & World Report ranked CST as No. 14 on its list of Highest-Paying Jobs without a Degree and No. 21 for Best Health Care Support Jobs in 2024. There’s a CST career pathway for everyone, from students pursuing their first degree to current healthcare professionals changing careers.

Individuals who opt for a career in surgical technology tend to thrive in the operating room (OR) as they become experts in maintaining sterility, handling surgical equipment and ensuring patient safety. However, the salary of a surgical technologist can vary greatly depending on several factors such as their location and specialty. In this article, we will explore the main factors that affect surgical tech salaries, identify the top-paying states, and compare their earnings to those of other healthcare professionals.

6 Factors Influencing Surgical Technologist Salary

Surgical technologist, surgical tech, surgery, operating room

1. Education Level

Surgical technologists can pursue various educational pathways to begin their careers, such as earning a certificate, diploma or associate degree. The chosen pathway has a significant impact on their salary potential. Typically, CSTs with an associate’s degree receive a higher salary as compared to those who have graduated from a certificate or diploma program. This is because associate degree-prepared CSTs have a broader and deeper understanding of their field, as they have completed additional coursework and mandatory training hours for graduation.

2. Qualifications and Certifications 

Surgical technology certification requires passing an industry examination and completing continuing education for renewal, so CSTs are held to higher practice standards that impact their earnings. Although many states don’t require certification, obtaining certification offers a good opportunity to increase your salary and make you more marketable to potential employers. Many healthcare organizations require certification regardless of state laws, making it especially important for those who wish to pursue travel CST opportunities.

3. Specialized Training and Experience

Certain areas of surgical technology require specialized training and experience, which often results in higher base salaries than other areas. These areas include orthopedics, neurosurgery, cardiovascular and organ transplant. For instance, neurosurgery surgical technicians typically earn a higher salary than CSTs who don’t specialize because they have gained expertise in a specific area. By improving your skills and knowledge, you can build trust within your operating room team and become more valuable for future career opportunities.

4. Employment Setting

According to May 2022 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), top-paying industries for surgical technologists included medical and diagnostic laboratories and home health care services. Furthermore, facilities with the highest concentration of employment were general medical and surgical hospitals, outpatient care centers and specialty hospitals. Due to the types of procedures and patient acuity, specialty hospitals and outpatient centers pay surgical techs a higher salary. 

5. Industry Demand and Economic Trends

The BLS projects the job outlook for surgical technologists will increase by 5% from 2022 to 2032. As the baby boomer population ages, the demand for surgical procedures is expected to increase and create around 5,900 job openings. The BLS predicts much of the CST demand will be in outpatient settings.

6. Geographic Location

Areas with limited job opportunities experience heightened competition and potentially lower salary expectations. Conversely, states with high employment levels typically have larger metropolitan areas and reflect higher salaries. According to BLS data from May 2022, California, Texas, Florida, New York and Michigan were the states with the highest employment of surgical technologists.

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Top-Paying States for Certified Surgical Technologists

Money from State Loan Forgiveness Programs

Average salaries for travel CSTs compared to staff CST wages are generally higher due to demand, staff shortages and seasonality. We compared Vivian Health’s salary data in all 50 states in late February 2024 to determine which states paid travel CSTs more than others. During this period, travel CSTs in Hawaii earned 26% above the national average of $1,991, and those in North Dakota earned 19% more. 

We determined that location played a key role, with four out of the five top-paying states in the central United States, including North Dakota, Oklahoma, Kansas and South Dakota. These locations may be considered less desirable for travel assignments, especially compared to popular coastal areas, causing healthcare employers to offer larger salaries to attract top talent. 

Another potential impact on the higher salaries in these areas was influenza season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed several top-paying states as areas of peak influenza season during February. Increased influenza causes an influx of patients, leading some hospitals to seek extra help from travelers to cover staff call-outs and elevated patient acuity.

The table below reflects salary data in late February 2024 for all 50 states per postings on Vivian Health’s jobs marketplace. We ranked states from highest to lowest based on average weekly travel wages to demonstrate where CSTs could make the most money.

State Average Weekly Travel Salary Max Weekly Travel Salary Average Hourly Staff Salary Max Weekly Staff Salary
Hawaii $2,703 $3,104 $28.20 $38
North Dakota $2,459 $2,628 $22.65 $30
Oklahoma $2,444 $2,702 $20.66 $28
Kansas $2,391 $2,745 $21.45 $29
South Dakota $2,290 $2,524 $20.32 $27
Delaware $2,270 $2,270 $23.85 $30
Utah $2,269 $2,536 $21.89 $30
Arizona $2,262 $2,660 $24.87 $32
Massachusetts $2,245 $2,516 $27.63 $38
Rhode Island $2,245 $2,457 $27.90 $36
Vermont $2,231 $2,357 $19.78 $28
Washington $2,219 $2,597 $28.55 $38
Maine $2,200 $2,668 $22.76 $29
New Hampshire $2,188 $2,380 $24.43 $31
Minnesota $2,183 $2,321 $28.89 $37
Oregon $2,181 $2,497 $28.13 $37
Colorado $2,177 $2,559 $26.61 $35
West Virginia $2,143 $2,368 $17.94 $24
Alabama $2,101 $2,213 $18.31 $25
Alaska $2,099 $2,302 $32.53 $39
Wyoming $2,093 $2,317 $21.26 $28
Connecticut $2,041 $2,334 $28.39 $38
Illinois $2,033 $2,341 $23.57 $32
New York $2,029 $2,331 $27.61 $38
Virginia $2,028 $2,376 $25.11 $37
Missouri $1,992 $2,437 $20.95 $29
Idaho $1,988 $2,320 $38.00 $38
Kentucky $1,983 $2,198 $20.90 $28
California $1,967 $2,416 $30.05 $41
Indiana $1,953 $2,250 $22.97 $30
Ohio $1,952 $2,292 $23.31 $30
Wisconsin $1,938 $2,512 $26.84 $36
Georgia $1,922 $2,164 $22.45 $30
Nebraska $1,919 $2,142 $22.80 $30
Tennessee $1,912 $2,266 $21.41 $29
Nevada $1,876 $1,995 $30.79 $45
Pennsylvania $1,839 $2,144 $21.87 $29
Michigan $1,822 $2,198 $21.44 $29
Iowa $1,814 $2,221 $20.49 $26
Montana $1,812 $2,061 $24.64 $32
Arkansas $1,809 $1,809 $19.95 $28
New Mexico $1,801 $2,052 $21.61 $29
Texas $1,787 $2,110 $36.31 $45
Florida $1,774 $2,169 $21.52 $29
New Jersey $1,772 $2,100 $26.28 $35
Louisiana $1,711 $1,812 $19.82 $27
North Carolina $1,661 $2,082 $21.26 $28
Maryland $1,660 $1,982 $26.68 $37
South Carolina $1,644 $2,367 $19.73 $25
Mississippi $1,468 $1,548 $19.93 $27

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Cost of Living and Its Impact on Salary

Downtown Los Angeles

Because the cost of living includes housing, food, transportation, healthcare, childcare, taxes and other everyday necessities, it can greatly impact a CST’s salary. When the average cost of living is higher in an area, an individual’s salary must be higher to maintain the same standard of living. For example, using Sperling’s Best Places’ cost of living comparison calculator, a person making $75,000 annually in Georgia would need $115,585 or 54.1% more to live the same lifestyle in New York. 

When comparing a state’s cost of living to the average travel and staff CST salary, it’s common to see some overlap. For example, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington have higher costs of living, reflected in their higher certified surgical technologist salaries. However, this isn’t always the case, such as when we compared the cost of living within the five top-earning states from our table above.

Sperling’s Best Places indicates that Hawaii’s cost of living is 65.7% higher than the national average. Renting a two-bedroom apartment in urban Honolulu costs 57.3% more when compared to the national average. These higher costs mean that despite the boosted wages in this state, a CST’s pay may not stretch as far as needed.

Alternatively, the cost of living is 11.4% less than the national average in North Dakota. Homebuyers in Bismarck, ND, typically pay 5.8% less for a home, and renters pay 32.2% less than the national average. CSTs can maximize their higher-than-average earnings in this state with these lower living costs. However, CSTs trade the more bountiful take-home pay for a less attractive location compared to Hawaii, so it’s a trade-off. 

Other centrally located states have similarly low costs of living. Per Sperling’s Best Places, Oklahoma’s overall cost of living is 17.8% less than the national average, Kansas is 16.9% lower and South Dakota is 10.7% less.

Besides everyday expenses, state and local taxes are another consideration that can decrease your overall pay. States with the highest income tax include California, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, Oregon and Minnesota. Conversely, states without personal income tax include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.

For surgical technologists considering relocation for either travel or staff opportunities, it’s imperative to research your desired location thoroughly beforehand. Don’t just compare salaries; compare everything that will eat into that salary to fully understand how much a CST job truly pays after expenses.

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Comparative Analysis with Other Healthcare Professions

As with other healthcare professions, many top-paying surgical technology positions depend on your sub-specialty. The following table reflects salary data from Vivian Health on February 5, 2024. It compares a certified surgical technologist’s salary to other healthcare professions to see how this allied health role stacks up against other fields.

Specialty Average Hourly Staff Salary Max Hourly Staff Salary Average Weekly Travel Salary Max Weekly Travel Salary
Certified Surgical Technologist $37 $45 $1,977 $2,390
Cardiovascular Technologist $48 $69 $2,551 $3,286
Registered Ultrasound Technologist $46 $61 $2,453 $2,940
CT Technologist $44 $59 $2,510 $3,049
Vascular Interventional Tech $36 $49 $2,629 $3,192
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) $31 $38 $1,459 $1,820
CVOR Surgical Technologist $29 $45 $2,314 $2,766
Sterile Processing Technician $24 $41 $1,386 $1,704
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) $21 $32 $1,264 $1,692
Phlebotomist $18 $24 $1,360 $1,386

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Career Advancement Opportunities

Certified surgical technologists also have numerous career advancement opportunities that further help them increase their salaries. After gaining experience, some CSTs move into leadership and supervisory roles to boost their paychecks. Alternatively, some choose to further their education and earn a bachelor’s degree, opening the door for higher-earning positions in research and teaching positions. Others pursue nursing degrees and become operating room or circulating registered nurses to boost their annual earnings.

Launch your career search by browsing Vivian’s numerous job opportunities today. 

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Amanda Marten, MSN, FNP-C

Amanda Marten MSN, FNP-C is a freelance nurse writer and a certified family nurse practitioner. With 10 years of nursing experience, she's worked in a variety of specialties, including urgent care, travel nursing, post-surgical and intensive care. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, outdoor activities and spending time with her friends and family.

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