Travel Surgical Tech Career Guide

Known for their dexterity, attention to detail, and preparedness, surgical techs act as the right hand of surgeons. Surgical techs provide them with the necessary tools to perform surgery while also providing patient care through the vigilant maintenance of the sterile field. Without a doubt, the expertise and assistance of surgical techs support operating rooms in functioning safely and efficiently.

At Nomad, we understand the importance of having a supportive team to take on new ventures as a surgical tech. That’s why we provide benefits curated for our clinicians so they can have confidence to take on career challenges and grow their skills while they travel. This includes medical, dental, and vision insurance, as well as malpractice insurance and a 401(k) with employer matching after a year. We understand that traveling can be difficult, so we offer partial travel reimbursement, a stipend for housing and utilities, and even state license and certification reimbursement.

The Nomad mobile app makes it simple and easy to search for travel surgical tech jobs and apply. If you need assistance along the way, the Nomad Navigators are available to you throughout the Nomad travel journey. And while the Navigators aren’t recruiters, they are dedicated clinician advocates that can assist in a variety of matters including application submissions, payroll, and credentialing.

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Travel Surgical Tech Job Description

The role of the travel surgical tech involves preparing surgical equipment and assisting surgical first assists and surgeons, before, during, and after a surgical procedure. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some of the tasks typically performed by surgical techs include:

  • Preparing operating rooms for surgery.
  • Sterilizing equipment and making sure that there are adequate supplies for surgery.
  • Readying patients for surgery. For example, 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.

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Travel Surgical Tech Job Responsibilities

Pre-procedure Responsibilities

Before surgical procedures begin, travel surgical techs are responsible for preparing the operating room by checking to make sure equipment is working properly. They also prepare medications and sterile solutions ahead of time.

Direct Patient Care

Aside from managing the OR, travel surg techs also provide direct patient care; they perform tasks such as transporting patients to the operating room and preparing them for surgery by positioning them correctly, covering them with sterile drapes, and disinfecting incision sites. When the surgical team is donning sterile gowns, travel surgical techs also assist the team members with putting on the gowns.

Intra-procedure Responsibilities

During an operation, traveling surgical techs will pass sterile instruments and supplies to surgeons and surgical first assistants. In addition, according to the BLS, surgical techs “might hold retractors, hold internal organs in place during the procedure, or set up robotic surgical equipment.” If body tissue and specimens are collected during surgery, travel surg techs may handle specimens that will be taken to the lab for analysis.

Communication and Collaboration

The operating room can be a high-stress setting that presents many challenges. Traveling surgical techs need to have strong interpersonal skills in order to work collaboratively with surgeons and nurses that they have never worked with before, especially during high-stakes situations. Thus, communicating clearly and effectively while maintaining a professional demeanor is a skill that is essential to travel surgical techs.

Physical stamina and Ergonomics

Additionally, travel surgical techs can spend up to 12 hours at a time standing, walking, and handling equipment. Therefore, having good stamina and employing proper ergonomics is an important aspect of having a long, healthy career as travel surg tech.

Post-procedure Responsibilities

Once an operation is complete, travel surg techs may perform tasks such as applying dressings to the surgical site and transferring the patient on to the bed. They may also transport patients back to the PACU (Post Anesthesia Care Unit), and help restock operating rooms after surgery. For travel surgical techs, being a quick study and adapting to new environments is vital as you are expected to identify equipment and locate essential supplies with minimal orientation.

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Types of Surgical Tech Travel Jobs

While many traveling surgical techs are considered generalists, they can also specialize in distinct areas. These specialty surg tech travel jobs include but are not limited to: the cardiovascular operating room (CVOR), obstetrics (OB) and labor and delivery (L/D), and orthopedics. Travel surgical techs are also able to advance their skills by earning their first assist certification. With the exception of surgical first assist, these other specialities don’t require any additional certifications, just on-the-job training. Take a look at the differences between them.

CVOR Surgical Tech

CVOR, or cardiovascular operating room travel surgical techs, may also be referred to as cardiac surgical techs. This specialty of surgical techs work within operating rooms where heart surgery is performed. Patients may require extensive procedures such as coronary artery bypass grafting, aneurysm repair, or heart transplant. A CVOR surgical techs role may involve tasks such as preparing the OR with sterile and non-sterile instruments, handing requested items to the surgeon during the procedure, and maintaining instruments and the sterile field. They may also help with the transport, positioning, and draping of the patient. With Nomad, travel CVOR surgical techs must have their Basic Life Support (BLS) and at least 12-24 months of recent cardiac surgical tech experience to qualify for a job. They may work three 12 hour shifts, four 10 hour shifts, or five eight hour shifts, depending on the facility; the shift may vary as well between days, mids, or night shift.

OB Surgical Tech

OB, or obstetric operating room surgical techs, are also referred to as labor and delivery surgical techs. These surgical techs work in operating rooms where maternal patients may be undergoing high-risk deliveries that require surgical intervention such as C-sections. An OB surgical tech job may involve tasks such as preparing equipment for the OR, anticipating the needs of the surgeons by providing sponges, sutures, and equipment when requested, and maintaining the sterile field. With Nomad, travel OB surgical tech jobs require Basic Life Support (BLS) and at least 12-24 months of recent OB travel surgical tech experience to qualify for a position.

Ortho Surgical Tech

Orthopedic, or ortho, surgical techs, work in operating rooms where patients are receiving surgery for a wide variety of orthopedic conditions like joint replacement surgery, spine surgery, or hand and wrist surgery. Ortho surgical techs may be performing tasks such as preparing sterile and non-sterile equipment for the OR, giving sponges, sutures, and equipment when requested, opening sterile packages during the procedure, and maintaining the sterile field. With Nomad, travel ortho surgical techs must have their Basic Life Support (BLS) and at least 12-24 months of recent orthopedic surgical tech experience to qualify for a position.

First Assist Surgical Technologists

Travel surgical techs must obtain a surgical first assist certification before qualifying for these positions. In general, first assists have more extensive training than surgical techs. Many start out as surgical techs, then train into first assist roles within their facility. A significant difference in the role of the surgical first assist is that they can perform more hands-on interventions with patients (i.e. closing with sutures for surgery).

According to the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants (NCCSA), surgical first assistant technologists help “physicians in surgery and may perform specific significant surgical tasks under professional supervision.” These tasks include but are not limited to:

  • Opening and closing surgical sites
  • Exposure of the surgical site
  • Harvesting grafts
  • Dissecting tissue
  • Removing tissue
  • Implanting devices
  • Altering tissues
  • Applying and removing splints/casts
  • Placing indwelling urinary catheters, IV’s, and arterial lines
  • Administering local anesthesia

The gold-standard certifications for first assistant surgical tech are the Certified Surgical First Assistant examination (CSFA-ERC) with the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA), the NCCSA's CSA (Certified Surgical Assistant), and the SA-C with the American Board of Surgical Assistants (ABSA). At Nomad, traveling first assist surgical tech jobs require at least 12 months of recent relevant experience and BLS.

Travel Surgical Tech Salary Information

At Nomad, the average weekly salary of travel surgical tech jobs is $2191, with the median traveling surgical tech hourly pay at $57. This means for a standard 13-week assignment, the gross travel surgical tech salary could be up to $28,483.*

Surgical tech travel jobs’ salaries can vary due to a number of factors such as overall years of experience, having additional training in subspecialties, and choosing higher-paying locations and shifts (days, mids, nights). In addition, being trained and certified as a surgical first assist can also boost potential salary earnings. 

*Subject to change. This is based on the average weekly salary of Nomad surgical techs from June 26, 2023.

Highest-Paying Surgical Tech Travel Jobs

At Nomad, the highest-paying traveling surgical tech jobs pay $3640 a week and up to $74 an hour. This means that for a standard 13-week assignment, the gross salary could amount to $47,320.* If you’re in search of the highest-paying surgical tech jobs, you can use Nomad’s mobile app to customize for factors like salary, location, shift, and length of contract.

*Subject to change. This is based on the highest-paying weekly salary of Nomad surgical techs from June 26, 2023. 

How to Become a Travel Surgical Tech

Step 1: Graduate from an Accredited Program

The first step to becoming a travel surgical tech is to graduate from an accredited surgical technologist program approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). The surgical tech field is unique in that a university degree is not a requirement–this means you may be able to complete your education more quickly. Most programs require you to have a high school diploma, or a GED in order to enroll; these programs are usually administered by community colleges or vocational schools.

Step 2: Obtain a Surgical Tech Certification with an Accredited Organization

Once you graduate from an accredited surgical tech program, it’s recommended that you obtain a certification such as the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). While the NBSTSA certification is the gold standard in the industry, you can also obtain the Tech in Surgery (TS-C) certification with the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). Although certification is not a hard requirement, many employers prefer that you have a certification from one of these institutions. Having this can improve your chances of employment and demonstrate your commitment to excellence in the surgical tech field.

Step 3: Gain Relevant Work Experience

Once you have a surgical tech program diploma and obtain a certification, it’s recommended that you gain at least 12 months of relevant surgical tech experience. When searching for a job, check with the state board of where you intend to work for the most updated professional requirements. As a traveler, many facilities will require surgical techs to have a minimum of six to 12 months of recent surgical tech experience to qualify. For surgical tech subspecialties, facilities may also require 12 to 24 months of recent experience.

Step 4: Apply For Surgical Tech Travel Jobs

Once you have the minimum months of experience in your preferred surgical tech speciality, you're now ready to apply for jobs. Be sure to refer to each individual state’s board for the most up-to-date surgical tech job requirements. Likewise, be certain that the facility you’re applying for accepts your certifications as these requirements may vary.

Travel Surgical Tech FAQs

Yes, traveling as a surgical tech is worth it; the salary, job flexibility, and career growth opportunities are excellent in comparison to working as a staff surgical tech.
With Nomad, South Carolina currently pays the highest travel surgical tech salary, at $3640 per week. The states that pay the highest traveling surgical tech salary after South Carolina are Colorado and Wisconsin. Subject to change. This is based on the highest-paying weekly salary of Nomad surgical techs from June 26, 2023.
According to the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), surgical techs “are allied health professionals who are responsible for various tasks pre, intra, and post operatively. They maintain asepsis during surgery, anticipating the surgeon’s needs while remaining attentive to all aspects of the surgical procedure to ensure a safe environment for the patient.” Traveling surgical techs take their skills to facilities across the country where temporary staffing is in demand.

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Author profile

Midge Lee, BSN, RN.
Midge is a registered nurse with eight years of clinical experience in ER, ICU, and home health. After travel nursing for a couple of years, she transitioned from the bedside to writing full-time. She’s passionate about diversity and trauma-informed care and will write hospital haikus if you ask nicely. Currently, she’s an SEO content writer at Nomad Health.