Surgical Tech vs. Phlebotomist

A surgical tech is a surgeon’s support person.

Health care is one of the few areas projected to have increasing career opportunities from 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While you’re mulling that over, consider some of the possible options. If you’re the sort of person who finds people’s interiors fascinating, you might do well as a surgical technician. If you’d rather have a job with more conventional hours and different responsibilities, you might want to become a phlebotomist instead.

What They Do

Surgical technologists -- also called operating room technicians -- are members of a surgical team that also includes surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists. A surgical tech helps prepare for operations, assists during surgery and helps clean up after the procedure. Surgical techs set up equipment, help other members of the team dress in protective clothing and position patients. During the operation, they hand instruments to the surgeon or put on dressings. Phlebotomists insert needles into a patient’s vein to obtain blood specimens for laboratory testing, ensure blood is stored and labeled properly, and transport specimens.

Work Settings and Hours

If you can bounce out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, have no trouble sleeping odd hours or are a natural night owl, either career offers opportunities outside the usual 9-to-5 environment. Opportunities for surgical techs are available in hospitals, outpatient surgery centers and some physician offices. Outpatient centers and physician offices don’t usually require shift work and are closed on holidays and weekends. In hospitals, surgical techs may need to be on call or work weekends and holidays. Phlebotomists might work in a medical laboratory, clinic, blood bank, physician’s office or hospital. Although some phlebotomists' employers, such as hospitals, might have 24-hour coverage, many are only open during regular business hours.


You’ll need to spend more time with textbooks to become a surgical technologist. Choose an accredited program, which may take a few months to two years. The shorter programs usually grant a certificate, while two-year programs leave you with an associate’s degree. Certification is also available and may increase your employment opportunities. Some states require graduation from an accredited school plus certification. Although a phlebotomist is usually required to have a high school diploma or GED, some organizations offer on-the-job training and don’t require further education. Most states don’t have licensing requirements, although California requires both a license and certification.


If money is an object, you’ll probably want to take the surgical tech route. The average annual salary in 2011 was $42,460 for an average hourly wage of $20.41, according to the BLS. Phlebotomy wages vary according to state, schooling, work shift and experience, according to American Medical Technologists, which says typical hourly wages in 2011 varied from $12.50 to $13.00. reports phlebotomists earned salaries ranging from $25,177 to $30,470, as of 2013.

2016 Salary Information for Surgical Technologists

Surgical technologists earned a median annual salary of $45,160 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, surgical technologists earned a 25th percentile salary of $36,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $55,030, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 107,700 people were employed in the U.S. as surgical technologists.

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