Surgical Technologist vs. Technician (With Differences)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 25, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When doctors perform surgeries, they often require assistance with their equipment and managing patients before and after the procedure. Surgical technologists and technicians assist in the operating room and use medical knowledge to support surgery patients. Learning about the similarities and differences between these two professions can help you understand this field of work and decide if it interests you. In this article, we explain the relationship between a surgical technologist vs. a technician, explore key similarities and differences between these two job titles, and provide tips for entering this field of work.

Surgical technologist vs. technician

To understand the difference between a surgical technologist vs. a technician, it's helpful to first realize that both of these job titles refer to professionals that provide support to surgeons as they operate on patients. These two titles often occur interchangeably in the medical field, along with titles such as operating room technician or operating room nurse. Both surgical technologists and technicians assist with setting up the operating room, preparing equipment, and supporting the patient. They take direction from the surgeon and help them perform complex operations for a variety of medical conditions.

Surgical technologists have detailed knowledge of medical equipment and devices and take responsibility for the functioning of surgical equipment during procedures. They might organize surgical tools in the operating room, ensure sterilization and safe practices, and test medical equipment before an operation is underway. Surgical technicians might have less specialized knowledge and focus on providing patient support before, during, and after the procedure. They might deliver instructions before surgery, communicate with the patient's family, and help transport the patient to a recovery area.

Related: How to Become a Surgical Technologist in 4 Steps (With FAQs)

Key differences between surgical technologists and technicians

There are many similarities and some differences between surgical technologists and technicians. Here are some of the key areas where these two roles differ:

Job duties

Surgical technologists collaborate with surgeons to ensure successful surgical operations. They develop extensive knowledge of surgical tools and medical equipment and prepare these tools before surgery begins. This can include calibrating tools, sterilizing all equipment, and arranging tools for easy access during the procedure. Technologists might also help prepare surgery patients for a procedure by shaving and disinfecting the future incision site. During the procedure, technologists take direction from the surgeon and might provide support by helping them access tools or operate medical equipment. Technologists might also monitor patients during surgery and inform the surgeon of any issues.

Surgical technicians can perform many of the same duties as technologists, but they often take a more patient-centred approach in their work. Technicians might not have the same technical capabilities to select and calibrate surgical equipment, but they can assist with sterilization and organization. Technicians can transport the patient to the surgery area, provide counselling on the procedure, explain key details to patient representatives, and monitor the patient during surgery. After the procedure, they might transport the patient to a recovery area and ensure they receive additional care.

Related: What Is Perioperative Nursing? (Stages, Duties, and How-to)

Patient interaction

Working as a surgical technologist might not involve direct patient interaction before and after a surgical operation, but technologists can deliver direct assistance to the patient during preparation and the operation. Technologists prepare patients for surgery by disinfecting and shaving the incision site and marking locations for the surgeon. Technologists can monitor the patient during the operation and immediately inform the doctor if they notice an issue.

Surgical technicians often work directly with patients as they prepare for surgery and recover from operations. They can transport patients to the operating room and share details about the procedure to help put patients at ease. Technicians frequently communicate with patient representatives to explain hospital policies and arrange a pickup time for discharge. After surgery, technicians can transport patients to a recovery area and ask them questions to determine if the surgery caused any unexpected effects.

Related: 16 Positions in Nursing (With Duties and Salary)

Education

Becoming a surgical technologist requires certification as a licensed practical nurse (LPN). First you complete a two-year college program in nursing. This program covers topics such as nursing theory, biological science, and therapeutic relationships. It often includes a practicum component with placement in a hospital or other medical facility to gain work experience. After graduation, you can apply for certification as an LPN within your individual province or territory. After obtaining LPN certification, you can pursue specialized certifications in perioperative nursing or surgical technology. These programs differ depending on your province or territory of residence.

Surgical technicians also pursue LPN certification to obtain the qualifications necessary to work in a medical environment. They can then pursue specialized certifications to qualify for roles such as operating technicians, depending on the regulations within the province or territory they plan to practice in. These courses can take around six weeks to complete, and LPNs might receive financial support from their employer as they work toward certification.

Related: Is an LPN a Nurse? (With Definition and FAQs)

Similarities between surgical technologists and technicians

Surgical technologists and technicians perform many of the same functions in a medical environment. Here are some of the similarities between these positions:

Experience

Both surgical technologists and technicians gain experience by obtaining an LPN certification. These programs often involve a practicum component with a placement in a hospital or other medical facility learning from other licensed nurses. Upon graduation, surgical technologists and technicians apply for LPN certification and begin their careers. Both technologists and technicians typically perform general nursing duties before they specialize in perioperative nursing. A hospital might place LPNs in a variety of roles before supporting interested nurses as they pursue further certifications. After obtaining a specialized certification, technologists and technicians can qualify to work in the operating room.

Related: What Is a Practical Nurse? (And How to Become One)

Work environment

Both surgical technologists and technicians typically work in a hospital environment providing support to other nurses, doctors, and surgeons. They often work long shifts, overnights, and overtime to keep the hospital continually staffed and open 24 hours a day. Working in a hospital can involve regular sterilization procedures, dealing with patients experiencing difficult situations, and responding to emergencies and medical events. Technologists and technicians spend a large part of their shift on their feet moving around the operating room and the hospital as they prepare equipment and support surgeons.

Skills

Surgical technologists and technicians use a similar set of skills to succeed in their work. Communication skills help these nursing professionals take direction from doctors and surgeons, listen to patient issues, and discuss medical procedures with patients and their representatives. Both use attention to detail as they ensure that surgeons receive all necessary medical equipment and take responsibility for sterilizing each tool. Empathy helps technologists and technicians provide compassionate care to each patient. Technical knowledge helps technologists and technicians select equipment, prepare patients for surgery, and follow hospital procedures.

Tips for becoming a surgical technologist or technician

Working as a surgical technologist or technician can be a rewarding and challenging career. Here are some tips for pursuing work in this field:

Confirm your interest

Before you pursue a career as a surgical technologist or technician, confirm your interest in the field by learning about the work and required qualifications. Pursuing a career in the nursing field typically requires an interest in medicine and helping others. Many future LPNs focus on science courses, such as biology or health, in high school. Try to connect with people in your network that work in nursing or as surgical technologists, and ask them to share their experiences so you can learn more about the work environment and daily routine.

Research provincial regulations

Each province and territory sets their own regulations for certifying nurses. Many provinces require that surgical technologists or technicians first obtain an LPN certification before specializing in surgical work. Some provinces or territories might allow those with alternative qualifications to support surgeons in the operating room. Use the internet to look up regulations for working in surgery in your province or territory. Consider contacting your provincial or territorial nursing association for more information. Learning about requirements for working in surgery can help you plan your education.

Choose an LPN program

Most surgical technologists and technicians take a nursing program from a university or college. Colleges offer licensed practical nursing programs that can take around two years to complete. These programs cover essential nursing skills, medical terminology, and practical aspects of working in medicine. You can also pursue a four-year program to obtain a registered nurse (RN) certification. These programs offer additional courses and can help you earn a higher salary when you start your career. After you finish your education, you can apply for certification from your provincial or territorial nurse association and start working.

Specialize

Most LPNs and RNs qualify for work in a variety of positions within a hospital. In some cases, you can choose your area of work, but you might start out doing general tasks under the direction of the hospital authority. Qualifying to work as a surgical technologist, surgical technician, or surgical nurse can require additional certification. Try to research requirements for this work within the local hospital and the province or territory where you reside.

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