Travel Surgical Tech: Salary, Jobs, & More

If you are a surgical tech and are interested in traveling, you may be considering working as a traveling surgical tech. 

Traveling surgical techs typically work contracts that last for 6 to 18 weeks before renewing the contract or accepting a new contract somewhere else. 

Travel surgical techs are typically paid more than permanent surgical techs, earning $1,882 per week, on average, with certain jobs paying over $3,000 per week. In addition to the base pay, travel surgical techs are often given stipends to cover relocation and housing expenses. 

This guide will go over what a traveling surgical tech is, their responsibilities, where they work, how to become one, average salary, and more.

What is a Travel Surgical Tech?

A travel surgical tech is a surgical technologist who takes a temporary position. Usually, travel healthcare workers work in hospitals or surgical centers that are short-staffed, and fill in the schedule gaps while new permanent employees are hired and trained. 

Traveling surgical techs are often employed by an agency that helps them find hospitals in need of staff. They sign a contract to work for a specific number of weeks at a healthcare facility before they renew or leave to start another contract elsewhere. 

Most agencies only hire surgical techs who are certified and have one year of experience or more. 

Travel Surgical Tech Salaries, Benefits, & Job Outlook

Travel surgical techs can earn significantly more per hour than those who take permanent positions, but they may not receive as many benefits or enjoy the same job security as regular surgical technologists. 

Travel surgical techs who can find consistent work earn around $106,000 per year, on average, while permanent surgical techs earn an average of $55,960 per year

While there is a huge difference between the two salaries, it is important to remember that travel surgical techs often go without benefits like paid time off or health insurance. 

The job outlook for all surgical techs is good, with 5% growth expected between 2022 and 2032. 

What Does a Travel Surgical Tech Do?

A travel surgical tech has many of the same responsibilities as a permanent surgical tech. However, travel surgical techs typically have a much shorter orientation to their new workplace. This means that traveling employees have to be flexible, fast learners, and apply feedback quickly. 

Some of the responsibilities of a travel surgical tech include: 

  • Prepare rooms for surgery. Surgical techs may show up before the rest of the team to set up the operating room with things like suction, lights, and surgical tools. Travel surgical techs have to learn surgeon preferences quickly so they can set up the room correctly each time. 
  • Prepare patients for operations. Patients have to be positioned properly for the operation they are getting. They also have to have surgical drapes placed over different parts of their body, and the surgical technologist helps to ensure everything is done correctly. 
  • Sterilize equipment. Maintaining sterility is one of the most important parts of an operation. Surgical techs are responsible for setting up sterile equipment, maintaining sterility during the procedure, and sterilizing equipment between surgical cases. 
  • Handle surgical instruments. During surgery, the surgical tech will hand different instruments or tools to the surgeon. It takes a lot of practice and studying to learn all of the different surgical tools and what they are used for. 
  • Assist the surgeon with suctioning or positioning patients. During an operation, the surgeon may ask the surgical tech to hold skin or body tissues out of the way, hold suction to remove excess blood or hold bloodlines in place. To do this well, surgical techs must have excellent communication skills and stay calm during a potential crisis. 

Where Do Travel Surgical Techs Work?

Travel surgical techs typically work in hospitals, but can also work in family practice offices, outpatient surgical centers, and offices of dentists. Some experienced surgical technicians even work remotely or with administrative tasks such as looking through insurance claims or auditing surgical charts. 

Most surgical techs spend their days on their feet, spending equal amounts of time working directly with patients and surgeons and working independently to sterilize and organize surgical equipment. Surgical technologists may work 8, 10, or 12-hour shifts and may be called in during weekends, holidays, and nighttime hours when a patient needs an emergency surgery. 

How Contracts & Assignments Work for Travel Surgical Techs

Travel contracts are different from typical employee-employer agreements because they have a specified end date. 

Some travel contracts also require a certain amount of overtime hours each week and others have on-call requirements. 

A travel contract usually includes hourly pay as well as a living stipend. Traveling staff are free to use the stipend however they would like, whether they spend it on a place to live, food, moving expenses, savings, or something else.

The most common length of surgical tech contracts is 13 weeks, though some may be longer or shorter depending on the job. Shorter contracts are usually used in crises like COVID-19 or when healthcare employees go on strike. Shorter contracts typically pay more than longer contracts, but are less common and require the surgical technician to find new jobs and move more often. 

If a surgical technician does a great job, and the healthcare facility is still short-staffed at the end of the contract, the surgical tech may be asked to renew their contract. Employers can extend a contract for just a few weeks, offer a new contract at the same length as the first one, or offer a permanent position with the organization. 

Travel contracts are available in all parts of the United States and in many different organizations. Hospitals are the most common place for traveling surgical technicians to work.  

How to Become a Travel Surgical Tech

Working as a traveling surgical tech is a great way to earn money and live in different parts of the country. Here’s how to become one:

  1. Obtain your high school diploma or GED. Before you can enroll in a surgical tech training program, you will have to earn your high school diploma or GED. Even surgical technologists who choose not to earn certification have to graduate high school before they can start working. 
  2. Get the necessary training & education. Because so many states require surgical technicians to be certified, you should attend a surgical tech training program and take your certification exam. Most training programs last between 4 months and 2 years and cost between $4,000 and $25,000.
  3. Prepare your resume. A good resume makes a big difference in whether or not you get hired for a job. A resume should include your work experience, training, volunteer hours, special awards or certificates, and extracurricular activities you have participated in.  
  4. Apply for jobs. Using websites like Indeed and LinkedIn is one of the best ways to apply for a lot of jobs in a short period of time. If there is a specific facility you want to work in, you may want to visit in person to speak to management and let them get to know you. 
  5. Get a year of experience. Because they receive so little on-the-job training, agencies do not usually accept surgical technicians for travel assignments until they have at least one year of experience working in a permanent position. 
  6. Find an agency. Healthcare organizations do not directly hire traveling surgical technicians. Instead, they work with an agency that hires surgical technicians and then connects those techs to the healthcare facilities. 
  7. Start a travel contract. Once you have found a good agency, they will send you options for different contracts that are available. You can choose a contract based on wherever pays the highest, a location you would like to visit, or a type of facility you are interested in working at. 

How Travel Surgical Tech Agencies Work

The only way to typically get a job as a travel surgical tech is to work with an agency. 

Hospitals and other organizations that need temporary staff do not tend to hire short-term employees directly. 

Instead, they contact staffing agencies who can connect hospitals with an employee who will be a good fit. Because of this, travel surgical techs get their paychecks, schedules, benefits, and assistance from the travel agency that hired them, not from the hospital. 

If an organization has an issue with a travel surgical tech, they bring up those concerns with the agency, which then addresses the employee. 

Similarly, if an employee has concerns about their contract, they work with the agency to solve them, not the healthcare facility where they have contracted. 

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