What’s The Difference Between A Surgical Nurse And A Surgical Technologist?

April 25, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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The Difference Between A Surgical Nurse And A Surgical Technologist

A complex surgery at Morogoro Hospital Surgical nurses and surgical techs are both responsible for prepping the operating room and getting it ready for surgery. In the operating room, all medical professionals work together in a team environment. The focus of the entire team is on the safety and well-being of the patient, from providing emotional support prior to the surgery to preventing complications such as skin breakdown or anaesthesia reactions during surgery. While the duties of surgical nurses and surgical techs may overlap in the operating room, surgical nurses have a greater responsibility and a much broader scope of practice.

Surgical Nurse

Surgical nurses are more correctly called perioperative nurses. The term encompasses all the duties that are carried out in the operating room as well as preoperative and postoperative care. All perioperative nurses are Registered Nurses who have obtained an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree or a nursing diploma. All RNs must be licensed. Certification in perioperative nursing is available but is not considered a mandatory requirement for practice by all healthcare organisations. In the operating room, perioperative nurses may scrub or circulate. A scrub nurse is responsible for maintaining the sterile field and passing supplies or instruments to the surgeons on demand. A circulating nurse is responsible for coordinating care, obtaining supplies and liaising with the patient’s family.

Surgical Technologist

A Surgical technologist is an allied health professional who works under the supervision of the surgeon. Surgical techs may circulate or scrub in the operating room. These professionals generally have a high school diploma and may have an associate degree or they may have completed a postsecondary program that confers a certificate. Education might take a few months or up to two years. Surgical techs are not licensed.


In the operating room both professionals perform the same technical roles. Both are required to have knowledge of patient positioning, sterile techniques and other intraoperative care measures. Either of them may apply a dressing after the operation or perform a surgical count. Surgical techs and perioperative RNs are also eligible to become first assistants, a role that provides direct support to the surgeon. Additional education and training is required for that role in either occupation.


Perioperative nurses have a broader scope of practice that includes technical responsibilities such as administration of medications. Perioperative nurses can also work in the post-anaesthesia recovery unit. Surgical techs are limited to the roles of scrubbing or circulating and are not trained to work in post-anaesthesia recovery units. In similar settings, perioperative RNs earn considerably more than surgical techs.

Which should you choose?

In most respects, the roles and responsibilities are similar between these two specialties. However, perioperative nurses have one distinct advantage over surgical techs. Because they are certified registered nurses, they can change specialties more easily and move into another area of nursing if the opportunity arose. Perioperative nurses undergo a longer education and training period and maintaining licensure is mandatory to keep practicing. They also earn a great deal more and work more independently in day-to-day practice. Surgical techs on the other hand can only work under direct supervision by the surgeon. They take home a considerably lower package but their educational period is much shorter and they need not maintain licensure to practice.