Operating Room Technician: Job Duties & Career Requirements

Jan 23, 2023

Career Definition for an Operating Room Technician

Operating room technicians - also called surgical technicians, surgical technologists, or 'scrubs' - assist before, during, and after surgeries under the supervision of physicians or nurses. Most operating room technicians find work in hospitals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but others find opportunities in doctors' clinics, outpatient treatment centers, or specialty surgery teams, such as those dedicated to organ transplants.

Required Education 9- to 24-month program accredited by the CAAHEP or ABHES followed by certification exam
Job Duties Assisting before, during, and after surgeries under physician or nurse supervision
Median Salary (2021)* $53,590 (all surgical technologists)
Job Outlook (2021-2031)* 6% growth (all surgical technologists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Required

Aspiring operating room technicians may need to take a certification exam, either from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assistants (NBSTSA) or the National Center for Competency (NCCT). To be designated a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) by the NBSTSA, students must complete a 9- to 24-month program from an institution accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Coursework includes anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, and pharmacology. Candidates for the Tech in Surgery - Certified (TS - C) designation from the NCCT can secure an accredited degree, undergo a 2-year hospital training program, or accrue seven years of professional experience in the field to be qualified for the certification exam. The certifications must be renewed every four and five years, respectively.

Skills Needed

Operating room technicians must be skilled in operation procedures and knowledgeable about human anatomy. An ability to perform at a high level in intense situations, respond quickly to problems, and be comfortable around blood and injuries is essential. Manual dexterity and well-honed organization skills are also highly desired for operating room technicians, according to the BLS.

Career Outlook

Opportunities for growth in a career as an operating room technician are numerous; many scrubs follow the path to becoming a surgical first assistant, helping the surgeon to control bleeding, monitor exposure of the surgical site, and perform other technical functions in closer collaboration with the surgeon. The BLS expects the rate of growth for surgical technologists to be faster than average, at 6%, during the 2021-2031 decade; the median annual salary for this career was $53,590, according to the BLS in May 2021.

Alternate Career Options

Here are some examples of alternative career options:

Dental Assistant

These assistants might take x-rays, provide patient care, maintain patient records, and schedule appointments, depending on the state and employer. Some states have no formal education requirements for dental assistants, although many states require completion of programs spanning 1-2 years and a licensing exam. The BLS projected faster-than-average employment growth of 8% from 2021-2031, and it reported a median salary of $42,510 per year in 2021.

Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurse

This profession requires completion of an approved educational program and earning a state license to secure employment. LPNs and LVNs provide basic patient care while working under the supervision of doctors and registered nurses. In 2021, the BLS revealed a median annual wage of $51,850 for these nurses and anticipated faster-than-average job expansion of 6% during the 2021-2031 decade.

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