A Deep Dive into the Roles of Surgical Tech and OR Nurse: A Comparative Study

A Deep Dive into the Roles of Surgical Tech and OR Nurse: A Comparative Study

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Are you interested in a career in healthcare, particularly roles that revolve around the hustle and bustle of an operating room? There are several different professions within this fast-paced environment, but two roles that often pique interest due to their direct involvement in surgery are Surgical Technologists, also known as Surgical Techs, and Operating Room (OR) Nurses. In this comprehensive article, we take a detailed look at the roles of a Surgical Tech and an OR Nurse, comparing the two in terms of job descriptions, responsibilities, salary, job outlook, and the educational path needed to enter each profession. This comparative study aims to help prospective students and professionals understand the distinctive features and overlaps of these two crucial roles in an operating room setting.

What Sets Surgical Technician and Operating Room Nurse Jobs Apart?

Though they work closely together in the operating room, surgical technologists and operating room nurses have distinct roles and responsibilities.

Surgical techs, also called scrub techs, surg techs, or operating room techs, serve as assistants to surgeons during operations.

OR nurses, or perioperative nurses, provide patient care throughout the surgical experience.

Surgical technologists prepare the OR, arrange equipment, and assist during procedures by passing instruments to the surgeon.

Operating room nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who ensure optimal care and safety for the patient before, during and after surgery.

Though their daily tasks differ, surgical techs and OR nurses collaborate as integral members of the surgical team.


What Does a Surgical Tech Do in the Operating Room?

The primary responsibility of a surgical technologist is to set up the operating room with the instruments and equipment the surgeon will need during the procedure.

They obtain the necessary tools based on the planned surgery and lay them out neatly on a sterile field.

Surgical techs also prepare patients for surgery by washing, shaving, and disinfecting incision sites.

During surgery, the surgical technologist hands instruments and other items to the surgeon as needed, often anticipating what will be required next.

They are careful to maintain a sterile field at all times.

Surg techs also operate equipment like lights and suction devices during the procedure.

After surgery, surgical techs help apply dressings, move the patient to recovery, and restock supplies.

They clean and resterilize equipment, preparing it for the next case.

Surgical technologists must complete an accredited training program and pass an exam to become certified.

How is the Role of an Operating Room Nurse Unique?

While surgical technologists focus on the technical aspects of surgery, operating room nurses provide clinical nursing care.

OR nurses perform preoperative tasks like taking vital signs, conducting health assessments, and reviewing medical history.

They ensure the patient understands the upcoming procedure and answer any questions about surgery and recovery.

During the operation, OR nurses monitor the patient closely, watching vital signs, checking equipment, and observing the surgical site.

Postoperatively, the operating room nurse manages pain, monitors vital signs, and prevents complications like infection and bleeding.

OR nurses require extensive education, including an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing and registered nurse (RN) licensure.

Surgical Tech Vs. OR Nurse: A Side by Side Job Analysis

Though surgical technologists and operating room nurses work in tandem during surgery, their day-to-day duties demonstrate key differences between the roles:

While surgical techs prepare equipment and instruments, OR nurses provide hands-on patient care.

Surgical technologists report to the surgeon and primarily assist with technical tasks.

Operating room nurses work more independently, delivering nursing care while coordinating with the surgical team.

Surgical techs require a shorter training period focusing on sterile technique and surgical procedures.

OR nurses complete intensive nursing education and clinical training.

Both roles require attention to detail, organization, composure under pressure, and stamina.

Surgical technologists interact closely with surgeons as surgical assistants.

Operating room nurses build relationships with patients while also collaborating during surgery.

How Does Salary Compare Between Surgical Technologists and OR Nurses?

Considering the differences in education and scope of practice, it follows that surgical tech and OR nurse salaries also differ.

However, both earn relatively robust pay when compared to similar healthcare support roles.

Understanding the Surgical Tech Salary Range

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgical technologists earned a median annual salary of $48,300 as of May 2020.

Those in the top 10% of earners made $68,960 or higher.

Pay typically depends on factors like location, experience, and certification.

For example, surgical techs in California earn the highest average at $64,940 per year.

Surgical technologists employed in hospitals, physicians' practices, or university medical centers also tend to earn more than those in other settings.

With several years of experience and certification, surgical technologists can earn upwards of $60,000 annually in many regions of the country.

Though not as lucrative as nursing salaries, surgical tech pay provides a respectable living.

What Does a Scrub Nurse's Salary Look Like?

According to BLS data, registered nurses earned a median salary of $75,330 per year as of May 2020.

Those employed specifically in surgical hospital settings fall on the higher end of RN pay scales.

Perioperative nurses, including those working as scrub nurses in the OR, earn an average salary between $70,000 - $80,000 annually.

Those in top paying states like California can earn over $100,000.

Experience level, education, specialty certifications, and employer also impact OR nursing pay.

Overtime is also common for OR nurses since they often work longer shifts.

This adds to their overall earning potential compared to other nursing specialties.

Demand for skilled OR nurses allows negotiation of competitive salaries.

Financial Comparison: Surgical Technologist Versus Registered Nurse

While many factors impact pay, surgical technologists generally earn about 35% less than registered nurses on average.

However, surg tech salaries still average nearly $50,000 per year nationally, allowing comfortable living in most areas.

Becoming an RN requires approximately two to four more years of education than most surgical technologist programs.

This expanded scope of practice accounts for much of the pay differential between these careers.

However, both surgical technologists and operating room nurses earn strong incomes compared to other common healthcare support roles.

Both careers offer job stability and projected growth due to the continued demand for surgical care.

What is the Job Outlook for Surgical Techs and Operating Room Nurses?

The job outlook for both surgical techs, also known as surgical technologists or scrub techs, and operating room nurses is quite promising according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment for surgical technologists is projected to grow 7% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. As the population ages and more surgical procedures are needed, there will be increased demand for surgical technologists to assist in operating rooms.

Similarly, registered nurses specializing in perioperative care will be in high demand. Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030, driven by an aging population needing more healthcare services. Operating room nurses with specialized training and RN licensure will have excellent job prospects in hospitals, ambulatory care centers, and doctors' offices.

Future Prospects for Surgical Technologists

With the number of surgical procedures steadily increasing as the population ages and medical technology advances, surgical techs play a vital role in healthcare. They will be needed to prepare operating rooms, sterilize equipment, assist surgeons during operations, and ensure procedures run smoothly.

Surgical technologists may consider specializing in specific procedures like open-heart surgery, neurosurgery, or robotic surgery. Obtaining additional certifications can boost job prospects and salary potential. Overall, the future looks bright for those considering this career path.

Job Outlook for Registered Nurses in Operating Rooms

Registered nurses provide vital care before, during, and after surgical procedures. Their duties include assessing patients, administering anesthesia, monitoring vitals, and implementing interventions as needed. Operating room nurses must excel under pressure in intense environments.

With nurses enjoying excellent job prospects overall, those specializing in the operating room will be in especially high demand. Perioperative nurses with strong scientific knowledge, technical skills, and compassion are highly valued. Experience in this specialty makes nurses more marketable with hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers.

A Comparative Analysis: Surgical Technicians vs. Registered Nurses

While surgical techs and operating room nurses work together in the OR, there are key differences in their education paths, scope of practice, salaries, and career trajectories.

Surgical techs typically need an associate's degree and earn certification, while nurses require a bachelor's in nursing at minimum and RN licensure. The scope for RNs is broader, encompassing patient care before and after operations. Median pay is higher for nurses at $75,330 versus $51,510 for surgical techs.

What is the Path to Become a Surgical Tech or an OR Nurse?

The Journey to Becoming a Certified Surgical Technologist

To become a surgical technologist, one must complete an accredited surgical technology program, which takes about 2 years. Coursework covers subjects like anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and surgical procedures. Clinical rotations give hands-on operating room experience.

After graduating, passing the certification exam administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) grants the title of Certified Surgical Technologist (CST). This qualification allows work in healthcare facilities nationally.

Route to RN Licensure: Becoming a Registered Nurse

The first step to becoming an operating room nurse is earning either an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN). BSN programs take 4 years while ADN degrees take 2-3 years. Both allow sitting for the NCLEX-RN exam.

After passing this national licensing test, nurses receive RN designation. They typically gain 1-2 years of clinical experience before specializing in the OR, which requires additional on-the-job training or a perioperative nursing program.

Clinical Rotations and Schooling: The Road to Being a Perioperative Nurse

Perioperative nurses receive extensive OR training and mentorship after getting RN licensure. This starts with clinical rotations through different surgical departments like pre-op, OR, and post-anesthesia care. New grads shadow experienced nurses.

Some nurses pursue perioperative nurse training programs or certification through associations like the Competency & Credentialing Institute. Ongoing education keeps OR nurses updated on technological advances in the surgical field. Clinical judgement is honed through case experience.


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