In the healthcare setting, two vital roles often work closely together to ensure the success of surgeries: scrub nurses and surgical technologists. Both of these professionals play critical roles during surgical procedures, but they also have distinct responsibilities, education, and certification requirements. It is important to understand the distinctions between these careers in order to make an informed decision about which path is suitable for an individual’s skills and goals.

A scrub nurse and surgical tech work in tandem, passing instruments and maintaining a sterile field during a surgical procedure

Scrub nurses, also known as perioperative or operating room nurses, are registered nurses (RNs) who specialize in providing care during surgical procedures. They work alongside surgeons in operating rooms, ensuring that the environment remains sterile and assisting the surgical team as needed. Surgical technologists, on the other hand, are allied health professionals who also assist surgeons, but their responsibilities involve preparing and maintaining the operating room, as well as passing instruments to the surgical team. Both careers require a strong understanding of the surgical environment, but their education and certification processes vary, as do their patient interaction and workplace settings.

Key Takeaways

  • Scrub nurses and surgical techs both play essential roles during surgeries, with nurses focusing on patient care and techs focusing on equipment and instruments.
  • Education and certification requirements differ; scrub nurses are registered nurses, whereas surgical techs go through specialized training programs.
  • While both careers involve working in a surgical environment, the emphasis on patient interaction and specific workplace settings differ between the two roles.

Roles and Responsibilities

A scrub nurse hands over surgical instruments to a surgical tech during a procedure

Scrub Nurse Duties

As a scrub nurse, the primary duties include preparing the operating room, ensuring all necessary equipment is ready, and maintaining a sterile environment. They are responsible for sterilizing the operating room and surgical tools, as well as reviewing the patient’s medical records before surgery. A scrub nurse also sets up surgical instruments and keeps them organized during the procedure.

On top of these tasks, a scrub nurse assists the surgeon in various ways. This may involve administering medication, monitoring vitals, and providing an action plan when complications arise. Furthermore, scrub nurses work in the post-anesthesia recovery room, where they continue to monitor and treat the patient post-surgery.

Surgical Tech Duties

Surgical techs, on the other hand, primarily focus on assisting the surgeon during the operation. They help set up the operating room, arrange equipment, and ensure that everything is in place and functioning correctly.

During the surgery, a surgical tech’s responsibilities include handing instruments to the surgeon, preparing and handling sterile supplies, and being aware of the surgeon’s needs. They also have an essential role in maintaining the sterile field to minimize the risk of infection.

In terms of salary and education, surgical techs typically earn less than scrub nurses. The average salary for a surgical tech in the United States is around $56,350 per year, whereas scrub nurses earn an average of $81,220 per year.

Education and Certification

A scrub nurse assists the surgeon, while a surgical tech prepares and maintains equipment during a procedure

Scrub Nurse Education

In order to become a scrub nurse, individuals must first complete a nursing program and obtain a Registered Nurse (RN) license. This can be achieved by earning an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN). After obtaining their RN license, aspiring scrub nurses can gain experience in surgical settings, which can be further expanded by pursuing additional specialization in areas like perioperative nursing, surgical care, or operating room nursing. Some scrub nurses choose to pursue a Level 3 Diploma in applied science in order to enhance their skills and knowledge.

Surgical Tech Certification

For those interested in becoming a surgical technologist, the path is somewhat different. Surgical techs typically complete an accredited training course, which can be a certificate program or an Associate’s Degree program in surgical technology. These programs usually include both classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experience. Some states require that surgical techs pass a certification exam upon completion of their training.

In addition to the basic education and certification requirements, both scrub nurses and surgical techs must possess a set of essential skills to excel in their respective roles. These include excellent hand-eye coordination, the ability to work well under pressure, strong communication skills, and a keen attention to detail.

While pursuing their education and gaining relevant experience, aspiring scrub nurses and surgical techs can take advantage of various resources, such as professional organizations, mentorship, and networking opportunities, in order to stay informed about the latest developments in their fields and enhance their professional growth.

Work Environment

A scrub nurse and surgical tech work in a sterile operating room, surrounded by surgical instruments, monitors, and a patient bed

Operating Room Dynamics

In both scrub nurse and surgical tech roles, professionals typically work in a highly demanding yet controlled environment – the operating room. These individuals are essential members of the surgical team, playing different yet equally critical roles in providing patient care during surgical procedures. It is important for them to maintain a sterile work environment and adhere to strict safety protocols throughout the surgery.

Scrub nurses, as registered nurses (RNs) specializing in surgical care, collaborate closely with the surgical team and may perform circulating or scrub functions. On the other hand, a surgical tech typically assists with preparing the operating room, organizing the equipment, and handing instruments to the surgeon.

Regardless of their specific role, both scrub nurses and surgical techs are required to be highly attentive and have a strong sense of teamwork within the operating room to ensure smooth collaboration and enhance overall patient safety.

Equipment and Tools Handling

Scrub Nurses: Scrub nurses possess a comprehensive understanding of the various tools and equipment used in the surgical setting. Their responsibilities may include:

  • Selecting and organizing surgical tools as needed
  • Maintaining sterility and observing infection control measures
  • Assisting the surgeon with improved precision and technique

These duties highlight the importance of thorough knowledge about each instrument’s name, function, and proper handling methods on behalf of the scrub nurse.

Surgical Techs: Surgical techs work closely with scrub nurses and perform the following tasks:

  • Setting up the operating room with sterilized equipment and tools
  • Anticipating needs of the surgeon and passing them required instruments
  • Ensuring that all equipment operates properly, and notifying the team of any issues

Surgical techs, like scrub nurses, must be familiar with a wide variety of surgical instruments and their purposes to be effective in their roles.

In summary, the work environment in which scrub nurses and surgical techs operate requires exceptional knowledge, precision, and teamwork to promote safe and successful surgical outcomes. Their close collaboration and shared duties in handling equipment and tools are crucial to the smooth functioning of the surgical team.

Patient Interaction

A scrub nurse and a surgical tech interact, exchanging surgical instruments and coordinating patient care

Preoperative Procedures

In the preoperative stage, both scrub nurses and surgical techs have essential roles in preparing patients for surgery. Although both professions are integral to the surgical process, they each have varying functions during this phase.

The primary responsibility of a scrub nurse is to establish a relationship with the patient, providing emotional support and reassurance. Additionally, they gather essential patient information, review medical history, and verify surgical consent. During preoperative preparation, scrub nurses play a crucial role in maintaining a sterile environment by setting up the operating room and laying out the necessary surgical instruments.

On the other hand, surgical techs focus more on the technical side of surgery. This includes preparing and managing surgical supplies and equipment while adhering to stringent hygiene standards. They often work closely with scrub nurses to ensure that everything is in place for the surgical team.

Postoperative Care

After a surgical procedure, patient interaction continues to be an essential aspect of the healthcare team’s responsibilities. Similar to their role in preoperative procedures, scrub nurses and surgical techs have distinct roles in postoperative care.

Following surgery, scrub nurses closely monitor the patient’s recovery process, administering prescribed medications and evaluating any potential complications. They also provide emotional support to the patient and educate them on postoperative care and recovery tips, ensuring they can effectively manage their health once discharged.

On the contrary, surgical techs are not as involved with the patient in the postoperative stage. Their responsibilities primarily revolve around managing surgical supplies and equipment, as well as maintaining sterility and integrity within the operating room, even after the surgery has been completed. While they may continue to assist the surgical team as needed, their interactions with patients during this stage are limited compared to those of scrub nurses.

In conclusion, although both scrub nurses and surgical techs play crucial roles within the surgical team, their levels of patient interaction and the type of care provided vary. Overall, the responsibilities of scrub nurses are geared towards direct patient interaction, while surgical techs concentrate on technical aspects of the operating room environment.

Skill Set Comparison

Technical Skills

Both scrub nurses and surgical techs possess a variety of similar technical skills, as their roles often require them to work closely together in the operating room. For example, they both must be proficient in handling various surgical instruments, maintaining a sterile environment, and understanding surgical procedures in-depth.

However, scrub nurses are registered nurses, which gives them additional responsibilities and skills. They are often responsible for administering medications and monitoring the patient’s vital signs during surgery. On the other hand, surgical techs focus on preparing the operating room, arranging equipment, and assisting in patient positioning1.

In terms of education, scrub nurses typically complete a nursing degree and obtain their registered nurse (RN) license, making their education more comprehensive compared to surgical techs, who usually complete a certificate or associate degree program2. This difference in education may contribute to the knowledge gap in areas such as advanced pharmacology and physiology.

Interpersonal Skills

Both scrub nurses and surgical techs work in high-stress environments, making interpersonal and communication skills crucial for their roles. They need to effectively communicate with the surgical team, including surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare professionals3. This helps ensure proper coordination and patient safety during surgery.

Since scrub nurses have a broader scope of responsibilities, their interpersonal skills may extend to patient care, education, and support. As registered nurses, they may take on roles that involve providing emotional support and establishing rapport with both patients and their families, which surgical techs are less likely to do4.

In summary, both scrub nurses and surgical techs share overlapping technical skills but differ in their levels of responsibility and educational requirements. Interpersonal skills are essential for both roles, as they both work closely with surgical teams to ensure patient safety during surgery.


  1. Scrub Nurse vs. Surgical Tech: Career Differences | 
  2. Surgical Tech vs. Scrub Nurse: Salary, Duties, & More 
  3. What’s the difference between scrub nurse vs surgical tech? 
  4. Scrub Nurse vs. Surgical Tech: What’s the Difference? 

Career Pathways

Advancement Opportunities

Both scrub nurses and surgical techs can advance their careers through experience and further education. For scrub nurses, they may choose to specialize in specific surgical areas or pursue leadership roles such as charge nurses or nurse managersScrub nurses can also become Certified Nurse Specialists in their preferred area of expertise.

On the other hand, surgical techs can advance to positions such as surgical assistant or team leader within the operating room. They can also specialize in specific surgical areas or focus on particular procedures. Acquiring advanced technical skills and pursuing certifications, such as the Certified Surgical Technologist credential, can help surgical techs in their career advancement.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is essential for both professions to stay updated with latest practices, technological advancements, and maintain certifications. Scrub nurses often need to complete a specific number of continuing education units to maintain their nursing licenses. These courses may include topics related to patient care, surgical procedures, and leadership.

Similarly, surgical techs need to participate in continuing education programs to maintain their certifications and stay competitive in the job market. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting offers continuing education resources for surgical techs to stay up-to-date with best practices and advancements in their field.

By pursuing career advancement opportunities and continuing education, both scrub nurses and surgical techs can enhance their skills, expertise, and overall value in the healthcare sector.

Salary and Job Outlook

Economic Factors

In the medical field, salaries can vary significantly based on the level of education, experience, and geographic location. For instance, scrub nurses hold a higher level of education, typically earning more than surgical technicians. On average, scrub nurses earn $68,255 per year, while surgical technicians make about $48,530 annually ^1^. However, location can affect these numbers; for example, the national average salary for scrub nurses in the United Kingdom is £33,569, while the average for surgical techs is £31,245 ^2^.

Additionally, scrub nurses who are registered nurses (RNs) can earn an average of $75,330, whereas licensed practical nurses (LPNs) typically make $48,820 ^3^. It’s crucial to bear in mind that various factors contribute to these salary differences, such as education level, experience, hospital size, and geographic location.

Employment Trends

In terms of job outlook, both scrub nurses and surgical technicians can expect similar growth rates. Between 2022 and 2032, scrub tech jobs are predicted to increase by 5%, whereas scrub nurse jobs are projected to grow by 6% ^4^. These growth rates reflect a consistent demand for healthcare professionals in the coming years.

Furthermore, certain cities can provide higher-paying job opportunities for both scrub nurses and surgical techs. For example, in the United Kingdom, Birmingham and London are known for higher-paying scrub nurse positions, while Chelsea and Wakefield offer better-paying surgical tech roles ^5^. It’s important for prospective professionals to research the employment landscape in their particular region to better understand salary potential and job opportunities.

In conclusion, both scrub nurses and surgical technicians can expect steady growth in their respective fields. Salaries can vary, with education level, experience, and location playing significant roles in determining pay. By understanding these economic factors and employment trends, aspiring healthcare professionals can make informed decisions about their career paths.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

As healthcare professionals, both scrub nurses and surgical technologists must adhere to certain legal and ethical considerations in their respective roles. This involves confidentiality, informed consent, and maintaining a safe work environment, among other things. In this section, we will look at some of the key legal and ethical aspects that apply to these professionals.

First and foremost, patient privacy and confidentiality are of utmost importance. Both surgical technologists and scrub nurses must be aware of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which mandates the protection of patient information. It’s essential for them to protect patients’ personal and medical information during all steps of the surgery.

Another vital aspect is obtaining informed consent from the patient before any surgical intervention. This ensures that patients are aware of the risks and benefits associated with the procedure, and have willingly decided to undergo surgery. Both scrub nurses and surgical technologists play a part in ensuring that the informed consent is documented and followed by the surgical team.

Throughout the entire surgical process, maintaining a safe and sterile work environment is crucial. This is especially important for surgical technologists and scrub nurses, who have direct contact with surgical instruments and the patient. Adhering to strict sterilization protocols such as proper hand hygiene, wearing protective gear, and proper handling of surgical instruments are all necessary elements for reducing infection risk and ensuring patient safety.

As members of the surgical team, both roles are expected to act ethically and responsibly. They are required to report any potential hazards, errors, or incidents promptly, and work in collaboration with others to prioritize patient safety and wellbeing. Additionally, they must engage in continuous professional development, staying up to date with the latest practices and technology advancements in the field.

It is important for these professionals to remain aware of the legal and ethical considerations that govern their work. By upholding these standards, they can provide the highest level of care to their patients and ensure successful surgical outcomes.

Team Collaboration and Communication

In surgical teams, effective teamwork is essential to ensure quality treatment and patient safety. One of the key aspects of teamwork is relational coordination. It refers to how team members communicate and relate for the purpose of task integration 1. Both scrub nurses and surgical techs play vital roles in the operating room, and understanding their collaboration and communication dynamics is crucial.

Firstly, we need to appreciate the similarities and differences between scrub nurses and surgical techs. Both professionals work in the operating room, assisting surgical teams during procedures. They are responsible for maintaining a sterile and organized environment, as well as holding and passing instruments and supplies 2. However, scrub nurses provide more assistance to the surgeons, including administering medication and supporting more technical procedures. They also monitor health vitals and provide an action plan in the face of complications 3.

Considering their roles, it’s evident that both scrub nurses and surgical techs need to communicate effectively with surgeons and other team members. Effective communication helps prevent misunderstandings and errors during surgery. Moreover, maintaining a smooth flow of information and instructions ensures that each team member is aware of the progress and any changes in the surgical plan.

We can identify several key aspects of team collaboration and communication in the context of scrub nurses and surgical techs:

  1. Clarity of roles and responsibilities: It is important for everyone in the team to understand their roles and the tasks they are responsible for. This prevents confusion and promotes efficiency during surgery 4.
  2. Active listening and comprehension: Good communication starts with being fully engaged with what others are saying while avoiding interruption. This ensures that the team understands instructions and requests, leading to better problem-solving and decision making.
  3. Verbal and non-verbal communication: Being able to effectively convey information through various channels (e.g., hand signals, eye contact) is crucial in the fast-paced, dynamic environment of an operating room.
  4. Conflict resolution: Disagreements or conflicts can arise during surgery. Effective communication allows team members to address these issues quickly and professionally, maintaining a positive work environment and focusing on patient safety.

In summary, the collaboration and communication between scrub nurses and surgical techs are crucial to the overall success of surgical procedures. Understanding the dynamics of their teamwork and fostering a culture of open communication can significantly enhance the quality of patient care.



Challenges in the Field

In the healthcare field, both scrub nurses and surgical technologists face several challenges. As professionals working in the operating room, it is crucial to stay updated with the latest medical techniques, technology advancements, and to maintain a high level of professionalism.

One of the primary challenges in this field is dealing with high-stress situations. Both scrub nurses and surgical technologists need to remain calm and focused during surgeries, which can be lifesaving procedures. They must be able to provide accurate and timely assistance to surgeons and ensure a safe environment for the patients. This often requires quick decision-making and adaptability during emergency situations.

Another challenge faced in this field is maintaining professional growth and development. Healthcare professionals must continually expand their knowledge and skills to stay updated with the latest medical advancements. This can be achieved through continuing education, training programs, and staying informed about cutting-edge surgical procedures.

Additionally, work-life balance can be difficult to achieve for both scrub nurses and surgical technologists. Operating rooms often require long hours and irregular shifts, which can take a toll on one’s personal life. Prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries, and finding time for hobbies and relaxation are essential aspects of maintaining a healthy balance in this profession.

In summary, the challenges faced by scrub nurses and surgical technologists in their careers include:

  • Dealing with high-stress situations
  • Maintaining professional growth and development
  • Achieving work-life balance

To succeed in these fields, it’s vital for professionals to develop coping strategies, continuously grow professionally, and create a balanced lifestyle. By overcoming these challenges, we can provide the highest quality of care for our patients and contribute to a seamless and successful surgical process.


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