Surgical Technician Salary

With the impressive rate of growth of the Certified Surgical Technologist positions, many people have become increasingly interested in pursuing this career. However, as with most healthcare positions, there is some required education involved. Is a Surgical Technician Salary worth the amount of money one must put into becoming certified?

Certified Surgical Technologist Cost vs. Return

The cost to become a Certified Surgical Technologist, including the fee for the national exam, can range anywhere between $2,000 and $20,000. The least expensive option is usually to attend a public college and complete a certificate training program. The highest cost options tend to be at private schools and provide an Associate’s Degree in Surgical Technology. Of course, there are median options, with the average program total around $6,000 to complete.

In comparison, a Surgical Technician Salary ranges the spectrum between $28,000 and $54,000 per year. The median Surgical Technician Salary is $38,000 per year. Generally, the higher the level of training, the better the chances of obtaining a Certified Surgical Technologist job with a higher salary, depending on which opportunities are pursued.

Surgical Technician Salary Details

The exact Surgical Technician Salary one can expect will depend heavily on the setting the Certified Surgical Technologist enters. Since most Certified Surgical Technologist jobs are in hospital settings, most candidates can expect to average approximately $38,000 to $39,000 per year. Of course, some hospital jobs will have a lower Surgical Technician Salary and some will be higher. The remaining options are as follows:

  • Dental Certified Surgical Technologist: $36,000 per year
  • Physician Office Certified Surgical Technologist: $38,500 per year
  • Outpatient Facility Certified Surgical Technologist: $39,600 per year
  • Specialty Office Certified Surgical Technologist: $41,000 per year

Certified Surgical Technologist with specialized training may be able to obtain a higher Surgical Technician Salary, especially in the offices of cosmetic surgeons. There are certainly some lucrative positions available in these offices, and one should remember that not all plastic surgery is elective. In fact, some of the most intricate procedures involve reconstructive surgery after burns, accidents, and mastectomies.

However, competition for these Certified Surgical Technologist positions is fierce and one would do well to exhaust every educational opportunity before attempting to apply for this type of job. It may also be well worth the effort of enrolling in some specialty classes specific to this particular field of surgery to increase the candidate’s qualifications.

Surgical Technician Salary: Is it Worth it?

To answer the original question of whether a Surgical Technician Salary justifies the cost of education, the simple answer is yes. Of course, each person will certainly have their own ideas of what is an acceptable expense and what is not. Even though the cost of higher education is greater than a simple certificate program, the potential Surgical Technician Salary can more than pay for it over just one year of employment.

Even the lower cost options will see a quick return on investment, although admittedly not quite as impressive. Combine this with the fact that Certified Surgical Technologist jobs are steady and growing, and most people would agree that it is an investment well worth making.

Surgical Technician License

When an individual decides to look into becoming a Certified Surgical Technologist, they are likely to encounter terms such as certification and licensure/licensing. To be clear, Surgical Technician License is not correct terminology. Certified Surgical Technologists are unlicensed medical personnel that must operate under the supervision of licensed nurses and physicians. Surgical Technicians receive certification that allows them to work in the field.

Obtaining Surgical Technician Certification

Having established that there is no such thing as a Surgical Technician License, prospective students are likely to be curious as to the process of obtaining Surgical Technician Certification. Simply speaking, one must pass the national exam to become a Certified Surgical Technologist. However, qualify to even take the exam will require a good bit of specialized training from an accredited learning institution.

The amount of time a student will spend training to become a Certified Surgical Technologist will depend on the level of education they wish to complete. Certificate only surgical technician training may be as short as 9 months. Obtaining an Associate’s Degree in surgical technology, on the other hand, generally requires about 24 months for completion.

Surgical Technician Training

Any student wishing to sit for the national exam, whether they desire a certificate, diploma, or degree, must attend classes at a school that is accredited by an acceptable accrediting association. In most cases, this will mean that Certified Surgical Technologist students must enroll in on-campus courses at a local technical school or college. There are a small handful of online courses available. However, students will still have to obtain a certain number of hours of hands-on training, usually by internship, in order to complete the course. The number of hours will depend on which training option was chosen.

Surgical Technician Certificate

Obtaining a training certificate from a school does not automatically make the student a Certified Surgical Technologist; only the exam can provide certification. A certificate from a Surgical Technician school is simply proof that the student has completed the necessary training required to sign up for the exam. This is the minimum level of training one may obtain to work as a Certified Surgical Technologist. It is the least expensive and the fastest, but it may not provide the best leverage when interviewing for Certified Surgical Technologist positions.

Surgical Technician Diploma

A surgical technician diploma is a median option between a certificate and a degree. It takes a bit longer to obtain—about 12 to 15 months—but it gives the recipient additional training that will help them to compete in the Certified Surgical Technologist job market.

Surgical Technician Associate’s Degree

This is the highest level of training a Certified Surgical Technologist can obtain before moving up to Surgical Assistant. Possessing a degree in surgical technology will tell potential employers that the candidate is highly trained, and therefore extremely desirable.

Even though it is impossible to obtain a Surgical Technician License, there are options for higher education available to Certified Surgical Technologist students who wish to utilize it.

Surgical Technician Exam Tips

In order to become a Certified Surgical Technician, one must successfully complete a certification exam. Students may sit for the exam at one of two agencies that offer certification: the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) and the National Center for Competency Testing.  Not just anyone can sign up to take the Surgical Technician Exam, however.

One must first complete an appropriate training program from an accredited school. The school must have accreditation either from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or from the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. Students should keep this in mind when choosing a school to prepare for the Surgical Technician Exam.

Details of the Surgical Technician Exam

If a Certified Surgical Technologist student wishes to succeed on the Surgical Technician Exam, preparation is in order. Here are some basic facts about the exam itself:

  • Members of the Association of Surgical Technologists, or AST, will pay a total fee of $190 including processing fees. Non-AST members will pay $290.
  • The exam contains 200 questions. 175 of those are scored, while 25 random questions are used solely for statistical purposes. There is no way to know which questions are scored and which are not.
  • In order to pass the Surgical Technician Exam, students must correctly answer a minimum of 119 of the scored questions.
  • All of the questions are in multiple-choice format with four answer options. There is no practical application (hands-on) sections of the Surgical Technician Exam. All questions are written.
  • Certified Surgical Technologists are allowed 4 hours to complete the Surgical Technician Exam.
  • An 8 member committee including 5 currently practicing Certified Surgical Technologists, 2 surgical technology teachers, and 1 practicing, board-certified surgeon are responsible for assessing and scoring all CST Surgical Technician Exams.

Surgical Technician Exam Questions

The NBSTSA website offers Certified Surgical Technologists an opportunity to take a practice exam online that is in the same format as the actual exam. There is a $40 fee to take the practice Surgical Technician Exam. This will give students the opportunity to assess their readiness as well as prepare them for the format and types of questions they might expect. Here are some examples:

  1. Which cells of the body secrete Pepsinogen?
    1. Squamous cells
    2. Chief cells
    3. Parietal cells
    4. Beta cells
  2. Following cataract surgery, which laser should be used to vaporize a section of the residual lens capsule?
    1. Excimer
    2. YAG
    3. CO2
    4. Argon
  3. Compression of which never causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
    1. Ulnar
    2. Median
    3. Hypoglossal
    4. Radial
  4. For what purpose would one select atropine as a preoperative drug?
    1. Drowsiness
    2. Drying of secretions
    3. Pain relief
    4. Decreased anxiety
  5. The Latin term “hernia” means:
    1. Opening
    2. Rupture
    3. Closure
    4. Defect

The correct answer to all of the above questions is B. Of course, the actual Surgical Technician Exam will contain much more variety, but these questions are excellent examples of the types of questions one must successfully answer in order to become a Certified Surgical Technologist.

Surgical Assistant Salary

A position as a Certified Surgical Assistant can be quite rewarding and lucrative. However, sometimes a technologist may choose to advance their career even further by becoming a Surgical Assistant. This position requires a good bit more training and education than that of a Certified Surgical Technologist, but the rewards can be great. For example, a Surgical Assistant Salary tends to be much higher than a technician salary.

Surgical Assistant Salary: The Numbers

Surgical Assistants may also be called First Assistants. The highest an assistant can go without actually becoming a licensed physician is a physician’s assistant. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the physician’s assistant field will experience a growth more rapid than that of Certified Surgical Technologists at a rate of 39 percent by the year 2018. The median Physician Assistant Salary is $81,000, with some assistants making as much as $110,000 per year.

Comparatively, Certified Surgical Technologists average an income of about $38,000 to $45,000 per year. Since surgical assistants fall in the middle of these two in terms of training and specialty, one could expect to earn a Surgical Assistant Salary of approximately $60,000 to $65,000 per year.

With numbers like that, it is hard to argue that continuing one’s education in pursuit of a Surgical Assistant degree isn’t worth the effort. However, qualifying for the position does require highly specialized training and education. In some cases, a Surgical Assistant may actually perform minor surgeries under the direct supervision of a licensed physician.

Becoming a Surgical Assistant

If a person is already a Certified Surgical Technologist, then they are well on the way to becoming a Surgical Assistant. It may be possible to apply course credits toward a Surgical Assistant degree, however, this is entirely at the discretion of the educational facility. As with training to become a Certified Surgical Technologist, it is important that Surgical Assistant students choose colleges or technical schools that have the appropriate accreditations.

Students may take a Surgical Assistant Exam through The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, which is the same organization that administers Certified Surgical Technologist exams. The fee for this exam is $499. There are a few ways to qualify to take the Surgical Assistant exam:

  • Proof of previous or current Certified Surgical First Assistant certification (if renewing)
  • Proof of graduation from an accredited surgical assisting education program
  • Be a current Certified Surgical Technologist with the required level of experience and proof of such

For the current Certified Surgical Technologist, this proof will consist of showing current certification and two Experience Verification Forms, properly notarized. These forms have a very specific format that must be strictly adhered to. Experience must include a full two years of employment as a Certified Surgical Technologist within the last four years and a minimum of 350 cases worked. When these requirements are met, the Certified Surgical Technologist may sit for the Surgical Assisting exam. If they are successful, they will enjoy a Surgical Assistant Salary in the very near future.

How To Find Surgical Technician Schools?

Choosing among the various Surgical Technician Schools can be tricky considering how many options for Certified Surgical Technician training are out there. Defining ones goals and looking into options that will allow those goals to be met is usually the best place to start. Once a student knows what they wish to accomplish and how much time they can devote to study, they will then be able to decide among technical schools, colleges, and online Surgical Technician Schools.

Surgical Technician Schools: Technical Schools

Technical schools provide training to students who wish to specialize in a career and wish to get started sooner rather than later. Many of these facilities offer Certified Surgical Technician training to those who meet their enrollment requirements and can juggle the schedule. Technical Surgical Technician Schools include:

Colorado Technical University

  • Offers AS in surgical technology
  • Locations in 4 Midwestern states

Lincoln Technical Institute

  • Offers non-degree Surgical Technology certificate
  • Locations in 6 northeastern states and 1 in Florida

Surgical Technician Schools: Colleges

Colleges offer the highest level of Certified Surgical Technician training. At these Surgical Technician Schools, students may choose to pursue various degrees surrounding Surgical Technology. Some offer online training and others do not. Generally, a degree is the only level of education offered, although a few may offer a diploma or certificate only programs. Some Surgical Technician colleges are:


  • Offers Surgical Technician certificates and diplomas, as well as an AAS in Surgical Technology
  • 16 locations nationwide

Everest Colleges, Institutes, & Universities

  • Offers AS degree in Surgical Technology and a non-degree Surgical Technologist diploma
  • 24 locations nationwide

Surgical Technician Schools: Online Programs

Many prospective students searching for Surgical Technician Schools are concerned that online schools may not be legitimate. However, there are many online schools that provide excellent Certified Surgical Technician training. The main thing students should investigate here is whether or not the schools are accredited or not. In order to sit for the national exam, training must be obtained through an accredited facility. Examples of accredited online Surgical Technician Schools include:

Virginia College

  • Offers AS degree in Surgical Technology and non-degree Surgical Technologist diploma
  • Online training courses are available as well as on-campus training in 13 states

Keiser University

  • Offers BS degree in Health Science
  • Online training exclusively

Choosing the Right Surgical Technician Schools

The different types of Surgical Technician Schools will offer different learning experiences for students. One might expect a great deal of hands-on training from a technical school or college while online Certified Surgical Technician programs may not offer any at all. On the other hand, online Surgical Technician Schools offer students greater flexibility with regard to study schedules. Students may be able to study at their own pace, allowing them the freedom to schedule school around their lives and jobs.

There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to each type of Certified Surgical Technician training experience, but with a little planning, students will be able to choose the type that is best suited for their situation.