The History and Future of Surgical Technology

September 13, 2019


The first documented surgical procedures date back to Ancient Egypt around 3500 years ago. Legend has it that they were performed by knowledgeable priests to treat various maladies. These priests almost certainly required assistants to help with the procedures, which is probably the only thing that hasn’t changed since those ancient surgeries.

Today, it would be impossible to imagine what surgery would be like without the helping hands of a surgical technologist.

The History of Surgical Technology

Records indicate that a greater demand for surgical technologists occurred during both World Wars. Under extreme battlefield conditions during WWI, female nurses were required to work at medical stations, requiring trained medics – referred to as operating room technicians (ORTs) to assist surgeons with on-the-spot surgical procedures. 

During the Korean War in the 1950s, hospitals experienced a shortage of operating room nurses. Civilian hospitals began hiring war-seasoned men who had been trained by the United States military. 

Over the coming decades, this position quickly evolved from ORT to surgical technologist in 1973, and major hospitals and universities began developing standardized surgical technology certification training programs. Today, the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) and National Board of Surgical Technologists and Surgical Assistants (NBSTSA) oversee national examinations and certifications. 

What Does a Surgical Tech Do?  

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Surgical techs (also called “scrub techs”) make up an incredibly important part of the allied health sector. You’ll find them actively participating in operating rooms, arranging medical equipment, assisting with pre- and post-operative patient care, handing instruments to surgical team members, readying patient medications during procedures, and handling specimens.

Maintaining a sterile environment is a major part of their job, but some surgical techs may also be involved in circulating. This procedure requires obtaining sterile instruments and supplies while the operation is underway. Many experienced surgical techs will also transport the patient to and from the OR, assessing the patient’s needs throughout the process. 

These are just a few responsibilities of surgical techs – there are so many other reasons to join this field

Necessary Qualities of a Surgical Technologist

Allied health professionals in this field need to be detail-oriented, be well-organized, and have the ability to remain focused for hours at a time. You’ll be on your feet all day, so staying in good shape will help you succeed in this role.  All of these elements are crucial for maintaining high professional standards and avoiding careless (and costly) mistakes. 

How to Become a Surgical Technologist

Surgical technologist certification programs usually take 2 years or less, resulting in a certificate or diploma. An associate degree program is also an option. Whatever path you choose, scrub techs have the unique ability to work in an operating room without a medical degree.

During their classroom courses, students will discover operating room prep, sterilization methods, human anatomy, medical terminology, and how to appropriately use medical equipment. After passing the classroom portion of their training program, students are required to complete a clinical internship. Placed with an experienced mentor in a hospital setting, prospective scrub techs will participate in surgical procedures. 

Do I Need Surgical Tech Certification to Work? 

Yes and no. Some states regulate surgical technology, requiring ongoing education throughout a surgical tech’s career. These include Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.  

Hospitals are far more likely to hire trained, experienced individuals. What’s more, if you’d like to move anywhere across the country, having your certification allows you to find surgical tech jobs in nearly every city. 

Surgical Tech Career Advancement Opportunities

Once you gain certification and experience as a surgical technologist, there are several advancement opportunities you can pursue. 

The most common way is through surgical tech specialization (e.g. general surgery, neurology, urology, cardiovascular surgery). Robotic surgical training is also an up-and-coming specialty that is increasing in demand. 

What Other Jobs Can a Surgical Tech Do?

Experienced surgical techs looking to expand their surgical team role might consider becoming a surgical assistant. Further education and training are typically required, but this position allows professionals to take on a more active role during surgeries. 

Not only do these opportunities open the door to new opportunities within this field, but they also increase a tech’s salary potential.

How Much Does a Surgical Tech Make?  

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According to the 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average surgical tech salary earned just over $47,300 (or just under $23 per hour). Just like any salaried position, income relies upon the area. For position that pays an average of $60,000 or more, you’ll need to apply in Washington DC, California, and Alaska. 

Otherwise, experienced surgical technologists who find work at outpatient centers and private hospitals can expect higher salaries of $52,000 and $55,000, respectively. 

Where Does a Surgical Tech Work?

With Baby Boomers entering retirement age (and the estimated number of surgeries set to increase), the estimated job growth rate for this field is 9% over the next decade. 

While most scrub techs work in medical hospitals, many of these allied health professionals are able to find employment in dental clinics, outpatient centers, and private clinics. 

If you’re in the tri-state region, the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area has the highest concentration of jobs in the entire country – with above-average salaries ($58,000). 

Apply to a Surgical Technologist Training Program Today 

If you live in – or are considering a move to – the New Jersey area, contact an AIMS representative to kickstart your education. With flexible classes and affordable rates, there’s never been a better time to get your surgical tech certification! 

Surgical Technologist Program