Operating Room Assistant Career Overview and Employment Outlook

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an operating room assistant. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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Operating room assistants assist in organizing the operating room, during surgery and after. This is a rapidly-growing field that requires just a few years of formal training. Professional certification is optional, but may be beneficial to a career.

Essential Information

Operating room assistants - often referred to as surgical technologists, scrubs or operating room technicians - assist surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists with a variety of tasks before, during and after surgery. As the need for surgeries increases, job opportunities for operating room assistants are expected to rise significantly in the coming years. Such professionals must hold educational awards in surgical technology ranging from certificates to bachelor's degrees. Certification is optional but may be advantageous to hold.

Required Education Certificate, diploma or associate's degree in surgical technology; bachelor's degrees are more rare, but available
Certification Voluntary through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) or the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 15% for surgical technologists
Median Salary (2015)* $44,330 for surgical technologists

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Operating Room Assistant Career Overview

Operating room assistants work under the supervision of surgeons, nurses and other surgical staff. The majority of operating room assistants work regular 40-hour work weeks; however, it is not uncommon for them to be on call or work evenings, weekends and holidays on a rotating basis with other assistants. Operating room assistants must stand for prolonged periods of time, stay alert during surgeries and practice safety procedures. They are often exposed to unpleasant sights and odors, contagious diseases and biohazards.

Job Duties

Typical duties for an operating room assistant include preparing the operating room for surgery, checking that equipment and supplies are in order, and assisting the surgical team with putting on sterile gowns and gloves. They also prep patients for surgery, look over patient charts for anything that needs to be relayed to the surgeon, check vital signs and transport patients to surgery. Operating room assistants set up tables with sterile instruments and supplies, pass instruments to surgeons and keep records during the procedure. After surgery, operating room assistants clean and sterilize the operating room, restock surgical supplies and transport the patient to the recovery room.

Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which classifies operating room assistants as surgical technologists, reports that they held approximately 99,800 jobs in 2014. Almost 71% of all operating room assistants worked in hospitals; others worked in outpatient centers and medical or dental offices that perform outpatient procedures. In 2015, the median annual salary for operating room assistants was $44,330. The BLS predicts that employment for operating room assistants should grow by 15% between 2014 and 2024.


Operating room assistants who are certified and willing to relocate should have the best job opportunities, according to the BLS. Qualified operating room assistants can choose from either the Certified Surgical Technologist exam administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) or the Tech in Surgery - Certified exam administered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT).

This is a demanding job, often requiring longl hours, an on-call schedule, and exposure to difficult working conditions during surgeries. However, these demands are on par with other positions in the medical field, and there is good job security with projected growth in the field over the next ten years.

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