Nursing School vs. Surgical Technologist School: Advantages and Disadvantages

Nursing School or Surgical Tech school? Here is an overview of the overarching advantages and disadvantages of both of these professions, as well as their schooling processes. This is meant to be a resource for those thinking of starting or changing their careers. A lot of consideration goes into choosing a new profession, and we hope we can help!

Surgical Tech


A surgical technologist (commonly called O.R. Tech, or Surgical Technician) assists the surgical team before, during, and after an operation. Before an operation, surgical techs prepare the operating room supplies and equipment. They learn to “scrub in,” which is a skill set that is meant to maintain sterility and a safe operating room environment. After scrubbing in, surgical techs assist the surgeon by handing them tools and instruments.

Sometimes, a surgeon will ask the surgical tech to assist with simple tasks during surgery (like holding an attached tool or manipulating tissue), although surgical techs are not legally allowed to perform any integral part of the surgery. After the operation, the surgical tech will assist in bandaging the patient and sterilizing the operating room.

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There are many avenues to becoming a surgical tech. Many schools offer an Associate’s Degree, which on average takes two years to obtain. However, some accelerated programs are as short as one year, offering a certificate. Employers typically prefer a certificate, and most don’t require a degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median income of $39,920 per year, or $19.19 per hour in 2010.

Here are some advantages of the field of Surgical Tech relative to Nursing:


  • Short school time: Surgical techs may go to school for two years, but have the option of going for only one year and still having competent skills in the job market.
  • Less Patient Care: If you are not in it for patient interaction, or not interested in providing direct patient care, this is an advantage for you.
  • Universal Job Description: A surgical tech is a surgical tech. No matter what setting you work in, the job will be mostly similar. You can rely on all the skills you learn in school throughout your career. The same can’t be said of nursing.
  • More Balanced Gender Population: According to the U.S. Census, men make up about a third of all “Miscellaneous Health Technologists and Technicians.”


  • Less Earnings: Surgical Techs make an average of $19.19 per hour compared to the average nurse’s $31.10 per hour.
  • Less flexibility: Operations largely take place during the day, so you can expect to be working day shifts.
  • Less Direct Patient Care: If you like bedside care and socially interacting with those you care for, nursing may be better for you.
  • Less Room for Advancement: As a surgical tech, you will have to go back to school to earn advancements or more money.
  • Licensure: A nurse has a license, while a surgical tech has a certificate. In legal terms, that means the surgical tech does their work under the nurse’s license.

Nursing School


It’s difficult to quickly describe what nurses do because the profession is so varied. Nurses can have traditional 9-to-5 desk jobs, work on a hectic hospital floor, and everything in between. There are a few things all nurses have in common, however. One of them is nursing school. Nursing school is different than surgical tech school.

While Surgical Techs learn what they will use on the job, nurses get a general education spanning all specialties of nursing, whether it’s pediatrics, mother-baby, neonatal (newborns), oncology (cancer), and many more. While nurses do learn many common nursing skills, it’s safe to say they will be specializing a lot more in the workplace.

Nursing provides some more options on how long you want to go to school for as well. There are three “levels” of nursing: LPN, RN, and BSN. I wrote a whole article about it, but basically you can go to school for as little as two years to as much as 8 years for a doctorate’s. Nurses make a median salary of $64,690 per year, or $31.10 per hour.


  • Flexibility in Job Description: As a nurse, you have the choice to work with patients, aim for a management job, or even a research or informatics job. (Most entry level nurses, however, work “on the unit” with patients)
  • Flexibility in Schedule: Nurses work around the clock, with varying shift times. It is probably the most flexible when it comes to hours that you can be.
  • Room for Advancement Nurses can go to school to continue their education, receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees. They can specialize in a chosen field, work in management, or take leadership roles.
  • Tougher, Longer Schooling: Nurses always complain about nursing school for a reason. The generalized curriculum, as well as state licensure requirements, make nursing school more time-consuming and rigorous.
  • Gender Imbalance: A whopping 90% of registered nurses are female.

That sums it up! If you have more advantages or disadvantages to add, put a comment below! I welcome your feedback and questions.

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