Surgical Technologist Salary - How Much Do Surgical Techs Make?
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Surgical technology is one of many career paths available in the allied healthcare sector, including numerous occupations, ranging from dental assistants to coding specialists. For detail-oriented clean freaks who aren’t squeamish and who thrive on following health and safety protocols, becoming a surgical technologist, or surgical tech, is an ideal choice for an allied health career.
Why become a surgical tech? Not only do surgical technologists get to work in multiple medical fields, but they also get opportunities to work with advanced healthcare professionals. Surgical technologists (STs), sometimes referred to as scrubs, are an integral part of a surgical team in an operating room. This team also includes surgeons, anesthesiologists, and registered nurses. According to The Mayo Clinic, surgical technologists perform tasks that vary from preparing operating rooms to handing tools and instruments to surgical assistants and surgeons.
Becoming a surgical tech is a great entry-level career choice for those who don’t want to invest in multiple years of training and education but want a lucrative healthcare career. Most surgical technologist programs and training programs only take 12 to 24 months to complete. With certification from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA), surgical techs can work in hospitals, healthcare centers, and clinics throughout the United States.
Where do surgical techs work? According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 75 percent of surgical technologists are employed in hospitals (BLS 2021). Based on hospital needs, surgical techs may work atypical or unique schedules, such as swing or graveyard shifts or even to do 10-hour shifts. Some surgical technologists also become private scrubs, meaning that they work with surgeons and specific teams to accomplish certain purposes, such as organ transplants or pediatric surgery.
A surgical tech salary varies depending on years of experience and location of employment but remains competitive compared to wages nationwide. The BLS shows the average annual salary for surgical techs is $51,510, which is only 8 percent lower than the average salary for all occupations at $56,310 (BLS May 2020). The Mayo Clinic shows that surgical techs can stay in this profession for a lifetime or pivot into other careers such as first surgical assistants or registered nurses.
Read on to learn more about surgical tech salary and career outlook.
How Much Do Surgical Technologists Make?
According to May 2020 data from the BLS, the average annual salary for surgical techs was $51,510. The median salary was $49,710, meaning that 50 percent of workers made salaries above this amount and 50 percent earned less than this amount. Those in the top 10 percent earned as much as $73,110, while those in the lowest 10 percent earned as little as $34,120 (BLS May 2020).
While these figures paint a general picture about surgical tech salary, other factors influence salary data, including time on the job, certification, job location, and additional education.
Here are the surgical tech salary percentiles (BLS May 2020):
- 10th percentile: $34,120
- 25th percentile: $41,010
- 50th percentile: $49,710 (median)
- 75th percentile: $60,980
- 90th percentile: $73,110
Salary.com provides similar information about surgical tech pay. It reports that in June 2021, surgical techs earned median annual salaries of $47,657. Those in the upper 25 percent earned as much as $46,308, while those in the upper 10 percent earned as much as $50,488. Those in the lower 25 earned $42,868, while those in the lowest 10 percent earned $38,508. Salary.com’s information is slightly more recent than the BLS, but both the BLS and Salary.com provide reliable information about existing surgical tech pay ranges.
According to the BLS (May 2020), the top five paying states for surgical technologists are:
- Alaska: $67,120
- Nevada $67,000
- California: $64,570
- Connecticut: $62,310
- District of Columbia: $61,620
It’s worth noting that while these states offer high surgical tech salary figures, they are also some of the most expensive places to live in the nation. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) provides a cost-of-living index that ranks states in their affordability. As of June 2021, the states listed above are on MERIC’s list of the 15 most expensive states to live in.
In June 2021, PayScale.com, an aggregator of self-reported salaries, showed the average annual salaries for surgical techs at $45,235. This is somewhat lower than the BLS reports but is also calculated based on fewer salary profiles: 3,874 in PayScale than 111,300 in the BLS.
However, PayScale.com shows that other factors can impact total pay, including overtime, bonuses, and profit-sharing. In fact, it reports the yearly surgical tech salary as falling between $31,000 and $66,000 with these considerations factored in. It also reports that neuroscience, neurosurgery, open heart and vascular skills can affect pay for the job and that most people move onto other positions after approximately 20 years.
Career Outlook for Surgical Technologists
Surgical tech careers are in demand: the BLS reports that the job demand for surgical technologists is 7 percent between 2019 and 2029, which is faster than the national average for all occupations at 4 percent (BLS 2021). This job growth is predicted to create 7,600 new positions in the same decade. As of 2021, 111,300 people were employed as surgical technologists in the U.S., but if the BLS’ predictions hold true, this could reach 118,900 by 2029.
Factors for this potential job growth include:
- An increase in the Baby Boomer population creating a greater need for surgical technologists since older adults often require more operations.
- An increased willingness of this aging population (compared to generations past) to utilize surgery to maintain a desired quality of life.
- Surgical technologists are less expensive to hire to work in an operating room compared to registered nurses.
- Advances in technology have occurred in the 21st-century, making surgical operations safer than they were in the past.
There are also various areas of specialization available to surgical technologists. According to the Mayo Clinic, these include cardiology, neurosurgery, organ transplantation, orthopedic, pediatric, and plastic surgery. Obstetrics can also be an option.
Some surgical technologists might advance to become a surgical first assistant, which are people who work directly with surgeons. Certification for surgical techs and surgical first assistants is offered through three organizations:
- National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting
- National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants
- American Board of Surgical Assistants
An educational program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP), military experience, or training on the job can allow surgical technologists to advance to first surgical technologist positions. Others may become RNs, or, as the Mayo Clinic reports, pursue employment with surgical supply companies, work in inventory control management, or become surgical nurses. Another option may be to go to work for an insurance company.
Job Requirements for Surgical Technologists
A wide range of postsecondary programs is available to help train students to enter the surgical technologist occupation. According to the BLS, these programs range from several months to two years and can lead to a diploma, certificate, or associate degree.
While in school, students learn about a variety of subjects, ranging from anatomy to biology and medical terminology and pharmacology, according to the BLS. They also learn about patient care and safety, sterilization, and setting up technical and robotic equipment. Clinical experiences, providing students with hands-on supervised opportunities, also comprise part of the surgical technology program.
Individuals interested in the occupation may want to look for programs accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), which accredits nearly 500 programs, or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, which accredits just under 500 programs as of 2021. Graduating from an accredited surgical tech program is often required for eligibility to sit for a surgical tech certification exam.
Surgical tech graduates are encouraged to seek certification through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) or the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). Certification through the NBSTSA allows surgical technologists to use the title Certified Surgical Technologist (CST). In contrast, certification through the NCCT allows the use of the title Tech in Surgery-Certified (NCCT). Candidates typically need to pass an exam to gain certification and have education through a postsecondary institution or the military.
According to the BLS, some surgical technologists may become registered nurses or even work as educators or operating room managers. Surgical tech certification can be a minimum requirement to legally work, depending on state board requirements. Basic first-aid and CPR certification may also be a requirement for some positions. Individuals seeking employment in hospitals may be required to work evenings, weekends, or on holidays.
Top Employers of Surgical Technologists
Most surgical technologists work in hospitals, while others work in outpatient care centers or in the offices of doctors who do outpatient surgery.
Here are the largest employers of surgical technologists (BLS 2021):
- Hospitals; state, local, and private: 73 percent
- Outpatient care centers: 10 percent
- Offices of physicians: 10 percent
- Offices of dentists: 3 percent
As well, here’s a list of the top-paying industries for surgical technologists and the average annual salaries they pay (BLS May 2020):
- Colleges, universities, and professional schools: $57,590 per year
- Specialty (except psychiatric and substance abuse) hospitals: $54,900
- Outpatient care centers: $53,690
- Ambulatory health care services: $52,880
- Management of companies and enterprises: $52,440
Job searches through sites such as Indeed.com show that there are many niche opportunities available for surgical technologists, including employment in ophthalmic medical services, orthopedics, and even sales.