Surgical Technologists vs. Surgical Assistants

Thinking of getting into the field of healthcare may make you confused, being that there are numerous options to choose from.

Some jobs are more interesting and rewarding than those that require hands-on work with patients and in the operating room.

Surgical technology and surgical assisting are careers that do not require a medical degree, and both of them are considered great options.

It is always suggested that before making any important decision for your future, you should learn more about each of these careers and the important differences between them.

Job Descriptions And Duties

When the job duties of surgical assistants and techs are in question, we have to say that they are quite similar.

Both these professionals will work around the operating room, patients who are in need of a surgery, and they will help surgical teams do their jobs better.

The main difference is that a surgical assistant does more hands-on work with the patient during surgery, while the technologist is more involved with preparing materials and equipment.

Typical duties of a surgical technologist include:

  • Preparing operating rooms for surgery
  • Sterilizing equipment and surgical tools
  • Ensuring equipment in the operating room is set up and working properly
  • Getting patients ready for surgery
  • Inventorying surgical supplies
  • Passing instruments to the surgeon during an operation

Surgical assistants are also sometimes referred to as surgical first assistants, and they can expect to do many of the same duties as the surgical tech, but this will highly depend on staffing in a hospital or surgery center.

Typical duties for surgical assistants include:

  • Positioning the patient for surgery
  • Draping the patient before surgery
  • Perform basic procedures on the patient under the surgeon’s direct instruction, including cutting tissue or suturing
  • Closing wounds
  • Applying dressings to surgical wounds
  • Inserting drainage tubes
  • Selecting and handling the appropriate instrument to the surgeon
  • Applying pressure or holding surgical sites open

Work Environment

This is another category that is very similar, as both techs and assistants are mostly hired to work in hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, or physicians’ offices in which procedures are performed.

Both professions are physically demanding, and require standing on feet for much of the shifts.

These professionals work full time, but hours can vary.

Also, they can always expect to work on-call hours for weekends or evenings and shifts that are longer than eight hours.

Training and Certification Requirements

The difference is in the period necessary to get a degree.

Becoming a surgical technologist requires less training and education.

A surgical tech can look for a job upon completion of a post-secondary education program.

These are typically one- to two-year programs that prepare students to pass the exam for national certification.

In the majority of states, there are no specific requirements that surgical techs are certified but many employers do require them.

On the other hand, surgical assistants do need to pass post-secondary programs for surgical assisting which are usually two-year degree programs and also prepare graduates to pass the examinations set for national certification.

They do not have to be certified in most states, but many employers require the possession of a license.

Both surgical techs and assistants can become certified through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, but only once they meet the requirements which include completing an appropriate accredited program.

Surgical assistants can also choose to become certified through the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants.

Salaries and Outlook

As the whole healthcare system is experiencing outstanding growth, the outlook for both surgical technologists and assistants is positive throughout the U.S.

Besides that, the salaries are strong too, which is not custom for careers that do not require lengthy, expensive college degree programs, as these two are.

The median annual salary for a surgical technologist in the U.S. is $46,310, and those who are most experienced in the field earn over $67,000 per year.

Salaries for surgical assistants can vary and they are often a little higher because of the additional responsibilities and longer education as compared to surgical techs.

Opportunities for Growth

Once you become a surgical tech or assistant, you will get the experience working with physicians, nurses, and patients which will also give you an advantage in getting admitted to degree programs.

You may choose to advance in your careers by getting on-the-job training and learn to work as surgical first assistants.

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