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Not everyone wearing scrubs in a hospital operating room or outpatient surgery center is a nurse or a doctor. A surprising number of them are surgical technologists. In fact one of the most important members of the surgical team is the surgical technologist assigned to the unit.
Surgical Techs are essential to the successful completion of surgery and to positive patient outcomes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this career field is expanding; growth in surgical technologist jobs is projected to be a solid 6 percent through 2031.
So the profession is in demand and you’ve decided to check it out. In addition to reviewing job responsibilities and required education, you should also consider which states may be best for surgical technologists. For example, Alaska pays the second median annual salary ($65,690), but only employs about 230 surgical technologists statewide. California, on the other hand, pays a median annual salary of $68,410, but has more than 9,000 surgical technologists in the field.
Best States to Work for Surgical Technicians
You may be surprised by some of the results. For example, California ranks first in both employment and median annual salary, but fails to make the Top 10 because it ranks a distant 49th in affordability.
- Median salary: $49,120
- Cost of living index: 92.6
- Employment: 10,680
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 1.14
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 14.2%
State highlights: With the most non-federal acute care hospitals of any state in the country, it’s no wonder Texas ranks first in employment for surgical technologists. It also does well in affordability, density of jobs, and projected growth—making it a strong state contender for anyone considering this role.
- Median salary: $48,870
- Cost of living index: 91.1
- Employment: 2,800
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 1.24
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 9.3%
State highlights: Indiana residents claim their state is the basketball capital of the world; now they can call it a great place for surgical technologists, too. Indiana earns the second spot in the Top 10 by placing 11th in three categories: employment, location quotient, and cost of living.
- Median salary: $56,590
- Cost of living index: 95.5
- Employment: 2,580
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 1.23
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 6%
State highlights: Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland—and some residents claim cows are the principal sightseeing attraction in the state. Others mention cheese, beer, and the Green Bay Packers. But those considering becoming surgical technologists like the state’s 12th place rankings in three categories: median salary, cost of living, and location quotient.
- Median salary: $46,100
- Cost of living index: 91.4
- Employment: 3,970
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 1.31
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): -1.6%
State highlights: While Michigan is projected to lose a few jobs over the next 10 years, the state still ranks in the Top 10 in employment, as well as location quotient.
- Median salary: $46,800
- Cost of living index: 89.8
- Employment: 3,400
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 1.02
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 19.6%
State highlights: A very attractive cost of living index and a strong forecast for growth place Georgia solidly in fifth place.
- Median salary: $61,250
- Cost of living index: 99.6
- Employment: 2,340
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 1.12
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 12.1%
State highlights: Minnesotans are known for their ingenuity. The state gave us the renown Mayo Clinic—and Scotch Tape and Post-It notes were invented here. With a median salary rank of fifth overall, Minnesota is one of the top states in ranking for median salary.
- Median salary: $49,060
- Cost of living index: 90.5
- Employment: 3,750
- Location quotient (density of jobs): .86
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 0.3%
State highlights: With top rankings for both cost of living and employment, Illinois still makes our Top 10 list despite a low density of jobs number (below the national average of 100) and a negligible job growth forecast.
- Median salary: $47,880
- Cost of living index: 92.9
- Employment: 3,760
- Location quotient (density of jobs): .95
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 5.4%
State highlights: Home of the Cleveland Clinic (and ranked seventh in employment) Ohio is a state known for its research and development in the medical community.
- Median salary: $43,780
- Cost of living index: 88.2
- Employment: 1,750
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 1.45
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 3.8%
State highlights: With a location quotient ranking of fourth and a cost of living index ranking of third, Oklahoma slips into ninth place in our Top 10 Best States for surgical technologists.
- Median salary: $46,380
- Cost of living index: 101.5
- Employment: 7,720
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 1.18
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 14.8%
State highlights: Florida squeaks into the Top 10 based on its third place ranking overall for employment, a strong forecast for job growth, and a higher-than-average location quotient.
How Do the Rest Rank? States 11-50
|State||Median Salary||Employment||Location Quotient (density of jobs)|
|#14 South Carolina||$43,200||2,300||1.48|
|#19 New York||$58,080||5,510||0.82|
|#23 North Carolina||$44,880||3,210||0.97|
|#24 New Mexico||$44,390||810||1.34|
|#29 West Virginia||$37,380||890||1.77|
|#35 South Dakota||$43,980||730||2.30|
|#39 New Jersey||$54,990||2,090||0.72|
|#43 North Dakota||$50,060||260||0.83|
|#44 New Hampshire||$52,580||430||0.91|
|#47 Rhode Island||$59,520||190||0.56|
About the Job
According to the 40,000-member Association of Surgical Technologists, surgical technologists play a critical role in the safety and success of surgical procedures by preparing operating rooms for procedures, setting up surgical equipment, and passing instruments, fluids, and supplies to the surgeon.
Contamination in the operating room can be life-threatening for patients. Surgical technologists ensure operating rooms as well as the equipment and tools within them are sanitized. They may also transfer patients to and from the operating room, place patients on the operating table, clean incision sites, perform a count of sponges and supplies to prevent foreign objects being inadvertently left within an incision after surgery, and apply bandages once surgery is completed.
Surgical technologists prepare operating rooms for procedures, set up surgical equipment, and pass instruments, fluids, and supplies to the surgeon.
Successful surgical technologists are detail oriented, good communicators, and skilled listeners. They have good manual dexterity and physical stamina—the job requires them to stand for long periods of time. Their strong stress-management skills aid them in dealing with high intensity situations in the operating room. Since they are trusted to follow exacting standards and manage a sterile environment for the safety of the patient and the surgical team, integrity is one of the most important attributes of a surgical technologist.
Options to Advance Your Education—and Possibly Your Salary
Most surgical technologists work in hospitals or surgical outpatient clinics. Surgical technologists typically need a diploma, certificate, or associate degree from an accredited surgical technology program. Many community colleges and vocational schools, as well as some universities and hospitals, offer programs for surgical technologists.
Some states regulate surgical technologists and require them to be certified to work in the field. Even if the state in which you work does not require certification, many employers do require, or strongly prefer, surgical technologists be certified as a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) or Tech in Surgery – Certified (NCCT).
Surgical technologists typically need a diploma, certificate, or associate degree from an accredited surgical technology program.
An associate or bachelor’s degree, while not necessarily required to be a surgical technologist, may be helpful to those who seek surgical technologist supervisory or training positions, or plan on moving into other roles such as nursing.
Many surgical technologists also choose to gain expertise and specialize in specific types of surgery and earn specialty certificates in areas such as obstetrics, cardiovascular, orthopedic, or reconstructive surgery.
Should I Consider Certification?
Even if becoming certified isn’t required in your state, doing so may make you more attractive as a job candidate, help you advance in your career, and potentially increase your earnings potential.
And while online programs for surgical techs aren’t offered, there are some programs that allow those who have already completed an accredited certificate or diploma program and hold certification as a surgical technologist to advance to an associate degree entirely online.
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