What Is a Scrub Tech?

An Important Member of the Operating Room Team

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A surgical scrub technician, also known as a scrub tech or operating room technician, is a member of the operating room team. The scrub tech is a college-educated operating room assistant who performs multiple job duties, including providing the surgeon with the instruments needed to perform surgery.

This article explains what a surgical scrub tech does and what education level they require. It also covers who is best suited for this type of job.

Surgical team in an operating room
Robert Llewellyn / Corbis / Getty Images

What Is the Role of a Scrub Tech?

On television, the surgical scrub tech responds to the surgeon's request for a scalpel by placing it in the surgeon's hand, but the job duties go far beyond handing instruments to the surgeon. While a scrub tech's responsibilities do include participating in the surgery by providing sterile instruments to the surgeon, a scrub also helps prepare the patients for surgery by cleaning and shaving the skin, transferring the patient to the operating table, sterilizing the instruments, maintaining the cleanliness of the operating room, and last, but not least, helping the surgical team "scrub in."

The process of surgery is done using sterile technique, meaning that the instruments and other articles used in surgery are bacteria-free to prevent infection. Sterile technique requires the scrub tech to not only perform their duties without contaminating the sterile field used in surgery but also to prevent others from contaminating sterile instruments as well.

A scrub tech job also requires an extensive knowledge of surgical procedures. The scrub tech does not just hand the instruments to the surgeon, they must know what instruments, tools, and sutures are needed for a wide variety of procedures, the names of the instruments, and to have them ready at a moment's notice.

After surgery, the scrub tech is responsible for safely gathering sharp and delicate instruments and counting the instruments to make sure everything is accounted for and nothing is accidentally left inside the patient. They also ensure that disposable instruments are discarded safely or are sent to be cleaned and sterilized for their next use.


In the United States, surgical scrub technicians are trained in multiple ways. Many are trained at technical schools and community colleges—a two-year degree is the most common route to a job as a scrub tech.In the military, scrub techs are given technical training without awarding a formal degree.

Scrub tech training and job responsibilities can vary widely in areas outside of the United States; however, in the United States, a scrub tech is certified by passing a test to show that they possess the knowledge necessary to perform the job correctly.

What Makes a Good Scrub Tech?

To be a successful scrub technician, attention to detail is essential, as is a strong desire to do things correctly whether or not anyone else will ever know it was done the right way. This is because the surgical scrub plays a significant role in infection prevention as part of their everyday work. The job isn't just handing instruments to a surgeon, the scrub tech helps set up the operating room for procedures, helps reset the room between procedures, and is the last line of defense between the patient and infection.

The surgical scrub tech must be able to work independently, holding themselves accountable for quality—sterility. To prevent infections, instruments must be entirely germ-free, known as sterile, and this sterility must be maintained through a variety of means. 

For a scrub technician, this can be complicated. Imagine the scrub tech has set up an entire table that is sterile and is covered with sterile instruments. They are in the room alone when they feel a sneeze coming on. Before they know it, not only did they sneeze, but they sneezed on the sterile instruments. 

The right thing to do in this situation is to start over again, sending the instruments away to be cleaned and setting the whole thing up again, even though no one else saw the sneeze, the scrub tech has to have the personal integrity to fix a lack of sterility even when it is a tremendous amount of work.

A Word From Verywell

Working as a surgical scrub tech is both rewarding and challenging, with opportunities for advancement. Scrub tech jobs typically include benefits including health insurance and excellent job stability. While it may be stressful to work with certain individuals, including surgeons, and some cases are more challenging than others, the rewards of becoming a surgical scrub technician are great and often open the door to other types of work in the healthcare industry.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does a scrub tech do?

    A scrub tech is part of an operating room team. They are responsible for setting the room up for surgery, including ensuring that the instruments and setting adhere to sterile practices. In addition, they clean and shave a person's skin before surgery, help the surgical team scrub in, and provide sterile instruments to the surgeon during surgery.

  • What is a scrub nurse?

    The terms scrub nurse and scrub tech are sometimes used interchangeably. While the duties of a scrub tech and scrub nurse are essentially the same—maintaining sterility in the operating room—a scrub nurse is an RN with a bachelor's degree who is qualified to care for patients. On the other hand, a scrub tech usually has a two-year degree or technical school certificate and can not provide patient care.

  • What is the difference between a surgical nurse and a scrub nurse?

    A surgical nurse is a registered nurse (RN) trained and educated to care for patients before, during, and after surgery. On the other hand, a scrub nurse is responsible for operating room sterility, including sterilizing instruments, the incision location, and helping the surgical team scrub in.

  • Where do surgical techs make the most money?

    In the U.S., surgical scrub techs make a median salary of about $50,000. However, in multiple California cities, including San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento, scrub techs make upward of $70 thousand.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What Surgical Technologists Do.

  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What Surgical Technologists Do.

  3. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disinfection of Healthcare Equipment.

  4. van Straten B, Dankelman J, van der Eijk A, Horeman T. A Circular Healthcare Economy; a feasibility study to reduce surgical stainless steel waste. Sustainable Production and Consumption. 2021;27:169-175. doi:10.1016/j.spc.2020.10.030

  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. How to Become a Surgical Technologist.

  6. U.S. News and World Report. Surgical technologist salary.

Additional Reading

By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.