A surgical technologist first assistant may be called a surgical tech, surgical technician, OR tech or even a scrub nurse, although most surgical technologist first assistants aren’t nurses. Surgical technologists are unlicensed health-care professionals who assist in operating rooms of hospitals, outpatient centers, clinics and physicians’ offices. Surgical techs have varying degrees of education and experience, with surgical tech first assistants typically possessing more experience and education than a CST, or certified surgical technician. Salary levels are affected greatly by location and the size of the facility in which a surgical tech works.
Education & Training
Most surgical tech first assistant are CSTs who receive additional training, usually obtaining an associate degree in surgical technology. Some are registered nurses who receive surgical training. A surgical tech first assistant must complete a surgical technology course accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs that normally results in an associate degree. After graduating from an accredited program, a minimum of 350 hours of clinical work must be completed before a surgical tech is eligible to sit for the certification exam offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, which generally is the minimum requirement to become a surgical tech first assistant. A candidate who passes the exam is designated a Certified Surgical Technologist First Assistant (CST-FA).
The U.S. median salary for surgical technologists, according to May 2010 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, is $39,920. The pay range for the 25th to 75 percentile is $33,400 to $47,570 a year, the 10th percentile salary is $28,100, and the 90th percentile figure is $57,330. The average hourly wage is $19.86, and the average salary is $41,310. A surgical first assistant’s salary typically would be above the median salary, taking into account experience, location, and employer type and size.
Salary by Employer Type
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that hospitals are the largest employers of surgical technologists, with 64,180 surgical techs employed at hospitals in 2010 at an average salary of $40,780. Physicians' offices employed 11,430 surgical techs at $42,690 a year, and outpatient centers employed 7,780 surgical technicians at an average wage of $42,480 annually. Dentists' offices employed 4,060 surgical technologists, but were among the lowest-paying employers at only $37,470 a year. The highest-paying industry is the offices of other health practitioners, such as ophthalmologists, who employ 630 surgical techs at an average salary of $55,840. Private employment service companies pay an average of $48,460 per year, and colleges and universities pay an annual wage of $47,590.
California employs more surgical techs than any other state — 9,110 — and pays an average salary of $48,820, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Texas is the second-largest employer with 8,650 workers and an average salary of $40,200. The highest-paying states are Nevada at $50,690 annually, Hawaii at $49,000, and Alaska at $49,510. The New York City area employs the most surgical techs with 2,910 workers earning an average salary of $47,390. The Los Angeles metro area pays an average wage of $45,330, while the highest-paying metropolitan area is the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara region of California at $61,850.
The job growth rate for surgical technologists is projected to be 25 percent through 2018 — much faster than the rate for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. An aging population ensures an increase in surgeries, and ever-advancing technological improvements require surgical techs to keep abreast of the latest developments. Hospitals will continue to be the main employers of surgical techs.
- Surgical Assistant Resource: National Surgical Assistant Association
- Career Tool Kits: The Facts About the Surgical Technician Salary
- Lorraine County Community College: Surgical Assistant Online Program Overview
- Salary Expert: Surgical First Assistant Salaries
- College of Southern Idaho: Surgical First Assisting