Operating Room Attendant: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for operating room attendants. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, certification and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does An Operating Room Attendant Do?

Operating room attendants are also known as surgical technologists. They perform vital tasks related to the medical care of patients who are undergoing surgery. Before surgery they help set up the operating room and make sure the equipment and room is properly sterilized. They also make sure they have the correct number of supplies needed during the surgical procedure. Operating room attendants may also prepare patients for surgery, which includes washing the bodily areas where incisions will be made. During surgery, they pass equipment to the surgeons. They work closely with surgeons and surgical nurses.

Education Required Postsecondary certificate or associate's degree
Education Field of Study Surgical technology
Key Responsibilities Preparing the operating room, maintaining a sterile field, passing equipment during procedures
Certification Certification is required in a few states, optional in others; certification available through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting or the National Center for Competency Testing
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15%*
Median Salary (2015) $44,330*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is an Operating Room Attendant?

Operating room attendants work under the direction of surgeons, registered nurses or other surgical staff. In this position, you would prepare and assemble the instruments and equipment needed for an operation. Before surgery, you would prepare patients by cleaning, shaving and sterilizing incision sites and transferring him or her to the operating room. You would position the patient on the operating table and use surgical drapes to maintain his or her body temperature.

Your duties might include helping the surgical team with scrubbing, gowning and gloving. During the operation, you would hand instruments and supplies to surgeons and their assistants, ensuring that the operating room remains sterile. You would apply bandages and dressings, transport patients to the recovery room and clean the operating room after each procedure.

What Should I Study?

To become an operating room attendant, you'll need to enroll in a formal surgical technology program at a college, vocational school or hospital or through the military. These programs may culminate in a diploma, certificate or associate's degree. Course topics in include anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, microbiology, pharmacology, professional ethics and surgical technology. You'll learn sterilization techniques, infection control and surgical procedures. Associate's degree programs can take as long as two years to complete, while diploma and certificate programs may be completed in several months.

How Do I Become Certified?

A few states require certification for operating room technicians or surgical technologists; throughout the rest of the U.S., professional certification is optional. You can earn the Tech in Surgery - Certified credential from National Center for Competency Testing, or the Certified Surgical Technologist designation through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. Both require applicants to pass an examination after graduating from an approved surgical technology education program. You must periodically complete continuing education or pass a recertification exam to maintain your professional credentials.

What Might I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for surgical technologists was $44,330 as of May 2015. An uptick in the number of surgical procedures being performed every year is expected to drive a high demand for operating room attendants. The BLS forecasted 15% growth in employment over the 2014-2024 decade (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Licensed practical nurses, dental assistants and medical assistants all have career similarities to operating room attendants. They all need to have postsecondary training, although they do not necessarily need a degree. Licensed practical nurses are involved in direct patient care, and may bathe patients and change their dressings. Dental assistants may take x rays, assist with patient care and schedule appointments. Medical assistants may perform both administrative and clinical tasks, the latter of which can include taking a patient's blood pressure, preparing samples for testing and giving injections. All of these medical workers need to maintain sterile working environments.

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