Operating Room Assistant Employment Information

Mar 18, 2019

Career Definition for an Operating Room Assistant

Operating room assistants spend their time readying operating rooms for surgeries and ensuring that medical instruments and equipment work properly. They prep patients and pass instruments to the surgeon during procedures. With specialized experience, techs can move into a surgical first assistant role and actually participate in the surgery under the guidance of the surgeon. Operating room assistants spend long hours standing in a fast-paced hospital setting; shifts can vary throughout mornings, evenings, and nights.

Required Education Certificate or associate's degree in surgical assisting; certified job candidates preferred by employers
Job Duties Include ensuring medical instruments and equipment are in good order, prepping patients, passing instruments to the surgeon during procedures
Median Salary (2017)* $46,310 (surgical technologists)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 12% growth (surgical technologists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Required

Operating room assistants will need to earn a certificate or associate's degree as a surgical assistant in order to practice. Programs for surgical techs will take 9 to 24 months to complete. Though not necessarily required, most employers prefer to hire operating room assistants who have Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) designations or Tech in Surgery-Certified (TS-C) designations. For CST status, a surgical assistant must graduate from an accredited program and pass a national certification exam. A TS-C exam can be taken upon graduation, after 2 years of on-the-job training or after working in the field for 7 years.

Skills Needed

Operating room assistants need composure, dexterity, and familiarity with the operating room and instruments to anticipate the needs of the surgeon. Surgical techs must also stay current on new surgical developments and procedures to ensure they can handle any operating room situation.

Career and Earnings Statistics

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), employment of surgical technologists is expected to grow 12% between 2016 and 2026. Though about 70% of surgical assistants currently work in a hospital setting, job growth in physicians' offices, dentists' offices, and outpatient care facilities is expected to expand rapidly. Median earnings as of May 2017 were $46,310, but operating room assistants can advance and earn more by specializing in a particular surgical field, such as cardiology or neurosurgery.

Alternate Career Options

Here are some examples of alternative career options:

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists provide hands-on dental care to patients. They may perform x-rays, clean teeth with special dental instruments, evaluate a patient's mouth and teeth for evidence of illness or decay, and teach patients how to properly brush and floss their teeth. Additional tasks can vary by state. Dental hygienists have an associate's degree and a state license; state licensing requirements can vary. Bachelor's and master's degrees are available for those who want to work in teaching or research. Dental hygienists can look forward to job growth of 20% from 2016-2026, according to the BLS. The median salary of dental hygienists was $74,070 in 2017.

Licensed Practical Nurse

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) completes an approved 1-year certificate program and sits for the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-PN; state licensing is also required. LPNs are also known as licensed vocational nurses or LVNs. They work in nursing homes, hospitals, and related facilities, providing hands-on care to patients under the supervision of a registered nurse or licensed doctor. They may help patients with dressing and bathing, take patients' vital signs, change dressings or insert catheters. Job growth of 12% from 2016-2026 is expected for LPNs, per the BLS. In 2017, according to the BLS, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses earned median pay of $45,030.

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