Scrub Nurse & Surgical Technologist: A Comprehensive Career Comparison

A surgical technician usually assists in the operating room before, during, and after an operation, such as setting up the operating room equipment and instruments. In contrast, a scrub nurse usually takes part in an operation by directly handling the instruments necessary for surgery. Both roles are extremely important as they each provide crucial support to medical teams so that surgeons can focus on patient care safely and efficiently. Both professions also require specialized training and must have professional licensure to meet standards for quality patient care.

Scrub Nurse vs. Surgical Technologist: A Comprehensive Career Comparison - a picture of a scrub nurse and surgeon.

If you are considering a career in the medical field, you may be wondering whether you should become a surgical technician or a scrub nurse. The roles are similar, and both are essential in ensuring surgeries go smoothly. The two roles involve different duties and responsibilities, in addition to different education and qualification requirements. To help you decide which career is right for you, we have created a comprehensive career comparison of surgical technicians and scrub nurses. Read on to learn about the similarities and differences between these two exciting careers!

Table of Contents


Scrub nurse  Surg tech
  • Scrub nurses assist surgeons during operations by handling instruments and following directions and anticipating the needs of the surgeon. 
  • Surgical techs help prepare the patient and OR prior to surgery, maintain sterile conditions during the procedure, and assist team members. 
  • The job outlook for a scrub nurse is excellent, with projected growth of 12% over the next 10 years and an average annual salary of $101,268.
  • Projected job growth for surgical techs is excellent (19%). The average annual surg tech salary is $48,530
  • Most employers require a BSN and an RN license and most scrub nurses get specialty certifications, but they are not mandatory. 
  • Most employers expect at least a diploma, certificate, or associate’s degree in nursing, surgical technology, or surgical assisting.


Scrub Nurse vs. Surgical Technologist: A Comprehensive Career Comparison  - a picture of scrub nurses and a surgeon.








What is a scrub nurse? 

A scrub nurse, also called a perioperative or operating room (OR) nurse, plays a key role in providing safe and effective medical care by serving as an assistant to the surgeon during operations.

What is a surgical technologist? 

A surgical technologist, also known as a scrub tech or an operating room technician, is an essential member of the surgical team, and they work under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or surgeon. A surgical tech’s primary responsibility is to help prepare the patient and operating room prior to surgery, maintain sterile conditions during the procedure, and assist other team members throughout the process. 

Responsibilities of a scrub nurse vs. surgical technician

What does a scrub nurse do?

During surgery, they are responsible for aseptic procedures and preparing the surgical instruments, supplies, and equipment necessary to complete the procedure safely. Scrub nurses, or operating room nurses, need to be aware of every step and instrument involved in each operation before, during, and after. This includes reacting effectively to complications by providing necessary instruments, medications, or other measures as needed. They must also maintain the proper positioning of the patient throughout the operation. 

In addition to these responsibilities, operating room nurses may handle specimens taken during surgery and apply dressings or sutures, among other duties. 

What does a surgical technologist do? 

Surgical technologists perform pre-surgery preparation, such as positioning, draping the patient, counting sponges and instruments, and planning and caring for supplies and instruments. They are also relied upon for post-surgery clean-up, such as disinfecting equipment before sterilization. In some states, and under the supervision of a surgeon or an RN, a surgical technologist may perform many tasks that a scrub nurse is responsible for, for instance, assisting surgeons by handling instruments or administering an injection.

Surgical techs have advanced knowledge in anatomy and physiology, instrumentation, sterilization techniques, and general operations of a sterile environment. They are highly skilled professionals who collaborate with surgeons and other healthcare providers to ensure that all aspects of the surgical process comply with safety protocols. This allows for excellent patient care before, during, and after surgery.

The major differences between scrub nurses and surgical techs

A key difference between scrub nurses and surgical techs is that scrub nurses can easily switch gears to work in other nursing capacities. Scrub nurses with a couple of years of experience and valid RN licensure (among other requirements), could become an RN First Assistant (RNFAs) given additional education. RNFAs have a more hands-on role during surgery, like cutting tissue, suturing, and handling wounds; they also care for patients post-operation. Alternatively, if you do not want additional education, a perioperative nurse can transition to other nursing roles, even roles away from the operating room. 

The responsibilities and scope of practice of operating room nurses and surgical techs will depend on their credentials and state regulations. Operating room nurses usually have a broader scope of practice and more autonomy than surgical techs. However, as we stated above, some states allow surgical techs to perform the functions of a scrub nurse under proper supervision (such as monitoring patient vitals, administering medication, and performing injections). Surgical technologists cannot perform many of the scrub nursing tasks because of their credentials and the laws and regulations of their home state.

The number of staff needed in each role varies from hospital to hospital; some hospitals rely solely on surgical techs, while others use both types of workers when funds and resources are available.

Scrub Nurse vs. Surgical Technologist: A Comprehensive Career Comparison  - a picture of nurses assisting a surgeon.








Scrub nurse vs. surgical technologist 2023 job outlook

The salaries and job outlook of a surgical technician and scrub nurse are similar. Both experience promising long-term job security, with U.S. News & World Report Magazine indicating that the employment of medical assistants, which includes surgical techs, is expected to grow by 19% through 2028, while projected growth for operating room nurses is near 12%. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average surgical tech salary is around $48,530 annually. Much lower than the average annual scrub nurse salary of approximately $68,255 per year. 

Scrub nurse salary

On average, in the U.S., a scrub nurse salary is about $101,268 per year or just over $50 per hour. ZipRecruiter reports that the salary range for Scrub Nurses is quite wide, with a high of $186,240 and a low of only $25,772. However, most commonly salaries land between $57,865 (the 25th percentile) and an impressive $125,456 (75th percentile). Those in the highest earning bracket (90th percentile) can expect to make around $161,926 per year.

Top 5 states with the highest paying annual salaries for scrub nurses

  1. Hawaii – $114,707
  2. California – $101,078  
  3. New Mexico – $80,111
  4. New York – $80,020
  5. Wisconsin – $78,239

Top 10 cities with the highest paying annual salaries for scrub nurses

  1. Urban Honolulu, HI – $114,826
  2. San Francisco, CA – $102,260
  3. New York, NY – $80,998
  4. Medford, OR – $80,074
  5. Milwaukee, WI – $78,268
  6. Las Vegas, NV – $77,486
  7. Washington, DC – $74,282
  8. Philadelphia, PA – $73,519
  9. Jersey City, NJ – $73,421
  10. Aurora, IL – $73,220

Surgical tech salary

In May 2021, the average annual surgical tech salary was $48,530. The lowest 10 percent of earners made less than $36,930 annually, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $75,940 annually.

Top 5 states with the highest paying annual salaries for surgical techs 

  1. California – $68,410
  2. Alaska – $65,690
  3. District of Columbia – $65,250
  4. Connecticut – $65,190
  5. Nevada – $65,180

Top 10 cities with the highest paying annual salaries for surg techs

  1. San Jose-Santa Clara, CA – $80,450
  2. San Francisco, CA – $80,170
  3. Vallejo-Fairfield, CA – $77,460
  4. Sacramento, CA – $74,470
  5. Santa Rosa, CA – $74,330
  6. Santa Cruz – $71,570
  7. Danbury, CT – $71,460
  8. San Diego, CA – $68,010
  9. Stockton, CA – $67,060
  10. Los Angeles, CA – $67,020

Scrub Nurse vs. Surgical Technologist: A Comprehensive Career Comparison - a picture of a nurse holding a gauze pad during surgery.








How to become a scrub nurse

  1. Earn a nursing degree (ADN or BSN)
  2. Obtain an RN licensure by passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam
  3. Gain relevant experience working in surgical care
  4. Consider specialty certification

Educational requirements for scrub nurses

The academic requirements for a scrub nurse can vary based on the healthcare facility. Some medical centers allow licensed practical nurses (LPNs) to function as a scrub nurse under an RN’s observation, while other facilities require scrub nurses to be Registered Nurses. However, getting an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) satisfies the educational criteria for most scrub nursing roles.

Certifications for scrub nurses

Certifications are not required for a perioperative nurse to possess, except for an RN licensure. However, certifications can advance your career, create new opportunities, increase earnings, and establish credibility for you as a subject matter expert. 

Specialty education via certification benefits all nurses, and operating room nurses are no exception. The following are a few certifications that would be advantageous to scrub nurses:

  1. CCRN (adult) – Critical Care Registered Nurse
  2. CNOR – Certified Perioperative Nurse
  3. CMSRN – Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse Certification (CMSRN)

Important skills for scrub nurses

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Composure
  • Highly organized
  • Attention to detail
  • Active listening
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking
  • Physical and mental fortitude
  • Integrity

Scrub Nurse vs. Surgical Technologist: A Comprehensive Career Comparison  - a picture of surgical instruments and a nurse organizing them.








How to become a surgical technologist

  1. Earn a diploma, certificate, or associate’s degree in nursing, surgical technology, or surgical assisting.
  2. Gain relevant experience working as an assistant in surgical care
  3. Consider further certifications or education

Educational requirements for surg techs

You do not need to possess a BSN to be a surg tech. Instead, holding a diploma, certificate, or Surgical Technologist Associate’s Degree from an accredited institution is what employers want in surgical technologists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Certifications for surgical technologists 

Many states require surgical technologists to be certified, but several do not. Therefore, most surgical technologists pursue credentials like the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST®) by taking and passing an exam administered by either the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) or the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). The same can be said for those seeking the Tech in Surgery credential from the NCCT, where they, too, must pass an examination.

Important skills for surgical technologists

  • Communication
  • Detail oriented
  • Integrity
  • Active listening skills
  • Physical stamina
  • Teamwork 
  • Stress-management skills
  • Organized
  • Critical thinker


1. Where do scrub nurses work?

Scrub nurses are essential to medical teams in various locations, including operating rooms, doctor’s offices, urgent care centers, and delivery rooms. 

2. Where do surgical techs work?

Surgery techs are a vital part of the medical field, working in a variety of clinical environments, but mainly in hospitals and surgical centers.

Scrub Nurse vs. Surgical Technologist: A Comprehensive Career Comparison - a picture of a nurse documenting during surgery.









So, what is the difference between a surgical technician and a scrub nurse? The primary job responsibility of a surgical technician is to prepare the operating room for surgery by setting up a sterile field and equipment. An operating room nurse’s primary role is to assist the surgeon during the operation. 

Scrub nurses also typically have more education and training than surgical technicians. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgical technicians earn an average salary of $48,530 per year, while scrub nurses earn an average salary of $68,255 per year. The job outlook for both careers is positive; however, operating room nurses are in higher demand than surgical technicians. So which career is right for you – a surgical technician or a scrub nurse? If you enjoy working in a hospital setting and have strong attention to detail, then a career as a surgical technician may be right for you. If you are looking for a challenging and rewarding career with good pay and job security, then consider becoming a scrub nurse.

Next steps

For prospective and current scrub nurses:

For prospective and current surgical techs:


For prospective and current scrub nurses: 

For prospective and current surgical techs: 

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