Surgical Technician vs. MRI Technician: Which One is Right For You?

Deciding between becoming a surgical technician versus a magnetic resonance imaging technician doesn't have to be difficult if you know what to expect from each career. Explore the ins and outs of both options, including the similarities and differences between the two jobs, the time it takes to complete educational requirements and the salary and job availability.

A surgical technician primarily spends his or her days within an operating room.  In this role, you may prepare patients and the operating room for surgery as well as help maintain a sterile field in the OR. Additional tasks that fall under this position include handing instruments to the surgeon, sterilizing tools and cleaning the OR after surgeries are completed. These duties entail remaining focused, dealing with a wide range of personalities and spending long stretches of time on your feet. In contrast, MRI technicians assist in operating and maintaining equipment, moving patients to the MRI table, communicating with patients who are in the machines for extended periods of time and possibly giving contrast agents by way of mouth or injection. A surgical technician may see patients with severe wounds or in grave conditions, and will be more exposed to scenes that might make others a bit squeamish.

A surgical technician program can last from nine to fifteen months, including an internship in which you are able to put your classroom skills to work. MRI technicians will typically need to have a two-year, associate degree, in addition to completing a one-to-two year internship program. With either option, you would benefit from seeking a certification (which some states require), and you will also be required to complete continuing education training as well as recertification at specific intervals.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth rate for surgical technicians will be 19 percent through the year 2020, and the job growth rate for MRI technicians will be 28 percent. The median national salary in 2010 for surgical techs versus MRI techs in 2010 was $39,920 and $54,340, respectively.

Deciding on a career can be a daunting task. The most important aspect is to consider your career goals. Either of these two options can lead to a long-lasting career in health care for the right individual. Knowing what each job entails, the length of your educational training, the learning potential you'll gain and job availability are all important factors in your decision making process. 

Tags: healthcare, medical technology, Surgical Tech

Karen N. Brown, MSHA

About Karen N. Brown, MSHA

Karen Brown is a freelance writer specializing in content for the health professions, but her writing projects have been quite varied in subject. She graduated from The University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Philosophy, and a Master of Science in Health Administration. For nearly 20 years, she worked at UAB, an academic medical center, most notably as a division administrator for a large, international HIV/AIDS program. She also has considerable knowledge in federal research regulation. Karen lives in Alabama's Birmingham metropolitan area. View all posts by Karen N. Brown, MSHA →