Operating Room Careers that Don't Require Surgical School

December 5, 2019


Have you always dreamed of being in the center of an operating room? Does the thought of a high-pressure OR environment fill you with excitement? You’ve probably thought about becoming a surgeon, but becoming one takes years and crazy amounts of student loans. 

Attending surgical school isn’t the only way to work alongside surgeons. With excellent jobs in the surgical field available, your dream of working in an operating room is just a couple of years away!

Surgical Technologists

U.S. military / Wikimedia / CC0 


Surgical techs assist the surgeon and other surgical staff by prepping patients for surgery, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, preparing instruments, and ensuring proper procedures are followed by other operating room positions. As an integral part of the overall surgical team, surgical techs require many of the same skills found in great surgeons: dexterity, flexibility, attention to detail, and a strong medical background.

Still, there are obviously key differences between surgical techs and surgeons, especially the length of education. Unlike 10+ years of training to become a surgeon, surgical technologist education can be completed in under two years.

In spite of the lower surgical tech training requirements, the average surgical tech salary is more than $47,000 (thousands higher than the national median). With school tuition rates of between $6,000 and $25,000, this is an affordable investment for anyone with a passion for surgery.

What Other Jobs Can a Surgical Tech Do? 

Alternative jobs for surgical techs may include scrub techs and circulating techs, which are often entry-level positions. 

Scrub Tech

A scrub tech is in charge of sterilizing and preparing instruments to be used at a moment’s notice during procedures. Scrub techs they act as a surgeon and head nurse’s right-hand person. 

Circulating Tech

This surgical technologist sub-role is the most varied. Circulating techs move throughout the operating room, doing whatever is required to ensure the surgery goes well. That could be making sure everyone else is properly equipped or even leaving the operating room to retrieve instruments, medication, or even other team members. 


Another highly-skilled – and critical – member of the surgical team is the anesthesiologist. First, they meet with patients to discuss anesthesia options, including any allergies the patient may have. On the day of surgery, they will administer doses and monitor the patient to ensure no problems arise.

Much like surgeons, anesthesiology is a high-stress yet exciting job. These medical professionals are expected to think on their feet and react to any sudden changes in a patient’s condition. They must also have a detailed knowledge of chemistry and physiology.

Of course, this position certainly requires a great deal of training (often as much as a surgeon, in fact), including a four-year science degree, medical school, and several years of residency to become fully certified. Still, like surgeons, anesthesiologists typically earn six-figure salaries. 



Trained, passionate nurses are the backbone of any medical practice and are involved in nearly every aspect of care. For this reason, their roles in the operating room can vary tremendously. Most commonly, OR nurses either function as a nurse anesthetist (which has simpler educational requirements and lower salaries than a full-fledged anesthesiologist), or as a registered nurse acting in an assistant role (RNA) which fulfills many of the same functions as a surgical technologist. 

Registered nurses require a great deal more schooling than surgical techs. Generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree in nursing is required – along with passing licensing and/or certification exams. As of 2018, registered nurse salaries were greater than $71,000 per year, though this depends on the location, sector, and specialization.

Kickstart Your Career in Surgery Today!

With surgical tech training programs lasting 1-2 years, you can get into an exciting allied health career fast. Our step-by-step surgical technologist guide lays out the steps you need to take to make your dream a reality.