Surgical Technology

The Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Surgical Technology provides graduates the training to work in the operating room of hospitals and surgery centers alongside surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists while assisting the surgeon. Graduates may work as surgical technologists, sterile processors, sterile processing managers. After gaining clinical experience, graduates may teach or become a certified first assistant

Surgical assistants and technologists help with surgical operations. Surgical assistants, also called surgical first assistants, help surgeons with tasks such as making incisions, placing clamps, and closing surgical sites. Surgical technologists, also called operating room technicians, prepare operating rooms, arrange equipment, and help doctors and first assistants during surgeries.

woman in surgical gown and equipment

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Surgical technologists typically do the following:

  • Prepare operating rooms for surgery
  • Sterilize equipment and make sure that there are adequate supplies for surgery
  • Ready patients for surgery, such as by washing and disinfecting incision sites
  • Help surgeons during surgery by passing them instruments and other sterile supplies
  • Count supplies, such as surgical instruments, to ensure that no foreign objects are retained in patients
  • Maintain a sterile environment to prevent patient infection

Before an operation, surgical technologists prepare the operating room by setting up surgical instruments and equipment. They prepare sterile solutions and medications used in surgery and check that all surgical equipment is working properly. Surgical technologists also bring patients to the operating room and get them ready for surgery by positioning them on the table, covering them with sterile drapes, and washing and disinfecting incision sites. And they help the surgical team put on sterile gowns.

During an operation, surgical technologists pass the sterile instruments and supplies to surgeons and first assistants. They might hold retractors, hold internal organs in place during the procedure, or set up robotic surgical equipment. Technologists also may handle specimens taken for laboratory analysis.

After the operation is complete, surgical technologists may apply bandages and other dressings to the incision site. They may also transfer patients to recovery rooms and restock operating rooms after a procedure.

Ambulatory surgical centers are included in outpatient care centers.

Surgical assistants and technologists wear scrubs and sterile gowns, gloves, caps, and masks while they are in the operating room. Their work may be physically demanding, requiring them to be on their feet for long periods. Surgical technologists also may need to help move patients or lift heavy trays of medical supplies. At times, they may be exposed to communicable diseases and unpleasant sights, odors, and materials.

Work Schedules

Most surgical assistants and technologists work full time. Surgical assistants and technologists employed in hospitals may work or be on call during nights, weekends, and holidays. They may also be required to work shifts lasting longer than 8 hours.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook

Job Opportunities

Surgical assistants and technologists help with surgical operations.

Surgical technologists held about 110,700 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of surgical technologists were as follows:

  • Hospitals; state, local, and private: 72%
  • Offices of physicians: 11%
  • Outpatient care centers: 11%
  • Offices of dentists: 2%
  • Administrative and support services: 1%

Career Outlook Quick Facts

Overall employment of surgical assistants and technologists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 9,600 openings for surgical assistants and technologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire. 

  • 2021 Median Pay: $48,510 per year, $23.32 per hour
  • On-the-job Training: None
  • Number of Jobs, 2021: 128,700
  • Job Outlook, 2021-31: 6% (As fast as average)
  • Employment Change, 2021-31:7,700

Professional Organizations