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Surgical Technologist and Surgical Assistant: What's the Difference?

Aug 12, 2017 | Harrison College

Surgical Technologist and Surgical Assistant: What's the Difference?

You spend your days dreaming of the operating room - all those machines whirling around. Bright lights and the excitement of the surgical challenge.

You can imagine yourself there, holding instruments and helping to save lives, but you aren't sure how to get there. The words surgical technologist and surgical assistant get thrown around a lot, but what do they really mean?

From the amount of time you spend in the classroom to requirements for certifications, these two programs represent vastly different stepping stones on the path to the operating room. 

Everyone's path will be different and based on their individual set of circumstances. There are many factors to consider when making your decision such as the length of the program, cost, and salary range post graduation.  

That's a lot to think about all at once. Don't worry! We will help you to make the best decision for yourself and your family.

Keep reading to learn about the possibilities with each of these exciting careers. 

Surgical Technologist

If you're looking to pick up a knife, surgical technologist is not the role for you. This incredibly important support role's major duties include:

  • Maintaining operating room supplies
  • Preparing and monitoring equipment
  • Sterilizing instruments
  • Maintaining sterile conditions
  • Monitoring patients during surgery
  • Preparing patients for transport to and from surgery

In addition to surgical technologist, these specialists are sometimes called operating room technicians, surgical technicians or surgical techs. 

To become one, earn an associate's degree in surgical technology, which takes as little as two years.

Once qualified, you will never struggle to find job openings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics latest report shows a job outlook for surgical technologists of 15% growth before 2024 and the median salary is $45,160. 

If you choose to, you can transition from a surgical technologist to a surgical assistant through on the job training. This gives you the flexibility to increase your earning potential down the road.

Surgical Assistant

If you want to be in the thick of the action, then surgical assistant is the right role for you. Some of the exciting duties this role performs are:

  • Suturing 
  • Holding retractors
  • Sponging
  • Staunching bleeding
  • Inserting urinary catheters 
  • Moving internal organs and tissue during surgery
  • Inserting drains
  • Cutting and clamping tissue (under supervision)

Surgical assistants dig into the action and play a vital role in the success of a surgery. Their skilled hands could help save lives.

Since you will be working directly with the patient, surgical assistants must be licensed and generally required to carry malpractice insurance.

Surgical assistant programs require a prior associate's or bachelor's degree unless you have extensive experience as a surgical technologist. These programs can take 10 to 22 months to complete and include classes in microbiology and anatomy. 

According to Payscale, surgical assistants can make up to $76,978 annually. 

Start Your Journey to Either of These Professions

Ready to start your career as a surgical technologist or a surgical technician? Get in touch.

We know every student has different needs, goals and their own unique set of challenges. We are committed to helping you develop the skills that you will need to find employment in the health care industry and overcome any obstacles in your way. 

If neither of these programs sounds just right, have no fear. Check out this blog posting with 31 health care professionals you will find working in a hospital.​

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