Surgical Technician vs MRI Technician – What’s the Difference?

Surgical Technician vs MRI Technician – What’s the Difference?

Mar 17, 2015 | 12:00 pm

Perhaps you’re interested in a career as a healthcare technician, but you’re not sure if you should choose the role of surgical technician, working in the operating room environment, or MRI technician, working with imaging and scan equipment. What’s the difference between the two? Let’s take a closer look at the nature of the work, level of education and employment outlook for each. Then… make your decision.

What’s a Surgical Technician?

A surgical technician, also called an “operating room tech” or “scrub tech,” works together with the surgical team in some of the following ways:

• Prepping and restocking the operating room
• Arranging and sterilizing surgical tools
• Handing tools and supplies to the surgeon
• Prepping and transporting patients

Surgical technicians play an important role in the operating room before, during and after surgery. This is an ideal job for someone who remains calm under pressure, knows how to keep patients comfortable, learns how to best assist during surgery and loves working in a fast-paced hospital environment. If you don’t like the sight of blood and can’t imagine witnessing live operations, this is probably not the career path for you.

What’s a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technician?

Also working in a hospital environment, MRI techs perform scans on patients to produce images of bones, organs and soft tissue using radio frequency within a magnetic field. To do this, they may operate scanning equipment and inject patients with special contrast dyes before a scan, allowing images to show clearly on a scan and helping doctors to diagnose medical issues.

MRI techs play an important role in helping physicians diagnose problems in the body by preparing the scans and producing images properly—they do not make diagnoses. This is an ideal job for someone who enjoys interacting with patients and helping them feel comfortable in a hospital or clinical environment. If you don’t enjoy operating imaging equipment or get bored with performing the same duties, this is probably not the right career path for you.

Education Needed

Now that we know what surgical technicians and MRI technicians do, let’s compare the level of education needed for each, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Surgical technician — associate degree in surgical technology or accredited certificate program after high school graduation. Becoming a Certified Surgical Technician is recommended.

MRI technician — associate degree in radiologic technology or accredited training program after high school. Passing a certification exam, which your state may or may not require, is recommended.

In both cases the length of education is about two years and certification seems required (and preferred by employers).

Employment Outlook

The BLS notes that the field of surgical technology will enjoy 30 percent employment growth from 2012 to 2022. This is largely due to the aging baby boomer population seeking medical treatment to improve their quality of life coupled with advances in medical technology and more versatility in treating illness and injury. As of May 2012, the median annual wage for surgical technologists was reported to be $41,790.

For the field of MRI technology, the BLS projects 24 percent employment growth from 2012 to 2022 largely due to the aging population and their need for treatment on breaks, fractures and other injuries caused by osteoporosis. There is also likely to be more MRI techs added to physicians’ offices and outpatient imaging centers due to the increase in outpatient care. As of May 2012, the median annual wage for MRI technicians was reported to be $65,360.

While the nature of the work is very different for both careers, some similarities exist; the length of schooling is about the same and faster-than-average job growth is expected. Salaries differ, with MRI technicians earning more, but surgical technologists also have the career option of advancing into roles of surgical assistants and registered nurses.