Surgical Technologist preparing for surgery

Medical Assistant vs. Surgical Technologist

Learn the Differences in Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Salary, and Job Outlook

Surgical Technologist preparing for surgery

In healthcare, Medical Assistants (MAs) and Surgical Technologists both fill a supportive role within their own sector of healthcare. Medical Assistants assist doctors and other healthcare professionals within a medical office, while Surgical Technologists assist surgeons within the operating room. MAs and Surgical Techs are both invaluable members of a medical team. Each of these vital professions have their own responsibilities, daily tasks, job outlook, and annual salaries.

If you’re interested in becoming an MA or Surgical Technologist but need more information, continue reading to learn about the main differences between these vital roles.

You can also click here to read our comprehensive guide on how to become a Medical Assistant.

Medical Assistant vs. Surgical Technologist: Definition

What Is a Medical Assistant?

Medical Assistants wear many hats in healthcare. In addition to tending the front desk of a medical office or facility, they also assist with several clinical tasks. In fact, Medical Assistants can work in a variety of healthcare settings, and their duties may vary depending on their employer’s location, specialty, and practice.

What Is a Surgical Technologist?

Surgical Technologists play a vital role in every successful surgery by ensuring the operating room is safe, sterile, and adequately prepared for the procedure. Surgical Techs prepare the operating room and actively participate in procedures and even serve as an extra set of hands for the surgeon.

Medical Assistant vs. Surgical Technologist: Job Description

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical Assistants fill one of the most versatile roles in healthcare. They measure vital signs, help physicians during exams, and prepare laboratory samples for examination. Plus, they may schedule appointments and enter patient information into medical records.

What Does a Surgical Technologist Do?

Surgical Techs sterilize and prepare every operating room with all the necessary medical equipment, tools, and medications that will be used during the operation. They also hand instruments to surgeons, wash and bandage surgical sites, and sometimes handle tissue samples or entire organs.

Medical Assistant vs. Surgical Technologist: Duties

Medical Assistant Responsibilities

The daily responsibilities of a Medical Assistant may include:

  • Measuring vital signs (i.e., blood pressure, temperature, etc.)
  • Assisting physicians during examinations
  • Giving patients injections or medications as directed by physicians
  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Preparing blood samples for lab tests
  • Entering patient information into medical records

Surgical Technologist Responsibilities

The daily responsibilities of a Surgical Technologist may include:

  • Preparing operating rooms for surgery
  • Sterilizing equipment and making sure that there are adequate supplies for surgery
  • Readying patients for surgery, such as by washing and disinfecting incision sites
  • Helping surgeons during surgery by passing them instruments and other sterile supplies
  • Counting supplies, such as surgical instruments, to ensure that no foreign objects are retained in patients
  • Maintaining a sterile environment to prevent patient infection

Teamwork of medical professionals

Where Do Medical Assistants Work?

Medical Assistants work in several healthcare settings. These include but are not limited to physicians’ offices, hospitals, outpatient care centers, offices of chiropractors, private healthcare facilities, laboratories, independent clinics, and more.

Where Do Surgical Technologists Work?

Surgical Technologists can find employment in any healthcare setting that hosts surgical operations. These include facilities like hospitals, outpatient care centers, offices of physicians, and offices of dentists.

Medical Assistant vs. Surgical Technologist

Educational Requirements for Medical Assistants

Although not every state requires a formal education, aspiring Medical Assistants typically enroll in postsecondary education programs. Employers may prefer to hire candidates who have completed these programs and present less risk, as they are formally prepared to enter the field.

Educational Requirements for Surgical Technologists

Aspiring Surgical Technologists usually need to obtain a postsecondary nondegree award or an associate degree. Certification can also be beneficial when it comes to finding a job. In addition, a few states regulate Surgical Technologists.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

Compared to some professions, Medical Assisting is unique in that you can complete a formal education in a year or less. At Unitek College, you can even complete a Medical Assisting program in as little as 9 months.

The Unitek MA program focuses on administrative as well as clinical tasks. These courses include dynamic instruction in medical terminology, medical office procedures, medical and clinical procedures, basic anatomy and physiology, and more.

As you plan your future and pick the best program for you, remember to consider each school’s admissions requirements, program curriculums, financial costs, and course lengths.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Surgical Technologist?

Surgical Technologists usually need to obtain a diploma, certificate, or associate degree from an accredited surgical technology program. These programs may last anywhere from several months to two years.

Surgical Technologist program curriculums often include coursework in subjects like anatomy, microbiology, and physiology. They also focus on the safety of patients, sterilization techniques, how to set up technical or robotic equipment, and preventing and controlling infections. In addition, students typically gain hands-on experience in clinical settings.

Currently, there are around 500 Surgical Technologist programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Medical Assistant vs. Surgical Technologist: Salary

How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly wage for a Medical Assistant was around $17.00, with an annual average salary of about $36,000. However, MAs who earn salaries in the top 10 percent can make more than $51,000 per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, these industries are where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Medical Assistants:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Outpatient Care Centers $20.35 $42,330
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $18.37 $38,200
Offices of Physicians $17.59 $36,580
Offices of Other Health Practitioners $15.97 $33,210
Continuing Care Retirement Communities and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly $14.84 $30,870

Highest Paying States for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, Medical Assistants earn the highest average wages in these states:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Alaska $22.41 $46,610
Washington $21.97 $45,700
District of Columbia $21.80 $45,340
Massachusetts $20.72 $43,090
Minnesota $20.72 $43,090

Highest Paying Cities for Medical Assistants

The BLS has reported that Medical Assistants earn the highest average annual wage in these cities:

City Mean Hourly Pay Mean Salary
San Francisco, CA $25.94 $53,960
Vallejo, CA $25.80 $53,660
Santa Rosa, CA $25.25 $52,520
Seattle, WA $23.59 $49,070
San Jose, CA $23.57 $49,020
Sacramento, CA $23.37 $48,600
Olympia, WA $22.85 $47,530
Anchorage, AK $22.02 $45,790
Santa Cruz, CA $21.63 $44,980
Longview, WA $21.53 $44,780

How Much Do Surgical Technologists Make?

According to the BLS, the average hourly wage for Surgical Technologists is about $24, with an annual average salary of about $50,000. However, Surgical Technologists in the top 10 percent can earn more than $73,000 per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Surgical Technologists

Recently, the BLS reported that these industries are where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Surgical Technologists:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Outpatient Care Centers $ 25.81 $ 53,690
Other Ambulatory Health Care Services $ 25.42 $ 52,880
Offices of Physicians $ 24.68 $ 51,330
Hospitals $ 24.65 $ 51,270
Offices of Dentists $ 23.12 $ 48,080

Highest Paying States for Surgical Technologists

As reported by the BLS, Surgical Technologists earn the highest average wages in these states:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Alaska $ 32.27 $ 67,120
Nevada $ 32.21 $ 67,000
California $ 31.04 $ 64,570
Connecticut $ 29.96 $ 62,310
District of Columbia $ 29.63 $ 61,620

Highest Paying Cities for Surgical Technologists

The BLS reports that Surgical Technologists earn the highest average annual wage in these cities:

City Mean Hourly Pay Mean Salary
San Francisco, CA $ 38.09 $ 79,230
San Jose, CA $ 35.62 $ 74,080
Vallejo, CA $ 35.32 $ 73,460
Santa Rosa, CA $ 34.70 $ 72,170
Sacramento, CA $ 34.29 $ 71,330
Redding, CA $ 34.03 $ 70,780
Las Vegas, NV $ 33.27 $ 69,200
Fresno, CA $ 33.11 $ 68,860
Visalia, CA $ 32.86 $ 68,360
Anchorage, AK $ 32.81 $ 68,250

Medical Assistant vs. Surgical Technologist: Job Outlook

Medical Assistant Job Outlook

The BLS reports that Medical Assisting has a great job outlook. Not only is their overall employment expected to grow 19 percent by 2029, but this growth is likely to continue thanks to the aging baby-boomer population.

Surgical Technologist Job Outlook

Surgical Technologists also have a positive job outlook. The BLS has reported that the overall employment of Surgical Technologists is expected to grow 7% by 2029, which is faster than the average for other occupations (4%).

Medical student in a stairwell

Why Is a Surgical Technologist a Great Alternative Career Path for Medical Assistants?

Medical Assistants who thrive in higher-pressure environments might enjoy becoming Surgical Technologists. They will have additional responsibilities and experience the intensity of surgical settings. Plus, Surgical Technologists tend to earn higher wages, and their job outlook is only expected to grow.

Take the First Step Toward Your Future with Medical Assisting

It’s not always easy to choose your career path. However, a Medical Assistant diploma can provide you with experience and help you start your career in an up-and-coming field. While some Medical Assistants use their education to jumpstart other paths in healthcare, many still enjoy careers as MAs and explore various specialties.

If you’re ready to take the next step, start by earning your Medical Assistant diploma in as little as 9 months at Unitek College.

Click here to learn more about our Medical Assistant program.