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Certified First Assistant Degree and Certificate Programs

Learn about certificate programs that can prepare students to become surgical first assistants. Explore the prerequisites for program enrollment, along with the typical coursework. Get career and certification info for surgical assistants.

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Essential Information

A certified first assistant (CFA) provides support to surgeons while preparing patients for surgery, as well as during surgeries and post-operation. Those interested in becoming CFAs must have graduated from a surgical assistant program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and be current Certified Surgical Technologists (CSTs). Certification requires the passing of a national examination. Accredited degree programs in surgical assisting are very rare; most accredited programs result in a certificate and take about a year to complete.

Surgical First Assistant Certificate

First assistant certificate programs are designed for those who already possess a certificate as a surgical technologist or related profession. The most common formal training program for meeting the CAAHEP certification educational requirement is a surgical first assistant certificate program. Aspirants can enroll in an accredited certificate program offered through various community colleges and vocational schools.

Education Prerequisites

This is an advanced-practice program that requires applicants to have significant work experience as a scrub or surgical technologist. Some programs also require prospective students to have completed a formal education program or classes in anatomy and physiology. Additional admission requirements may include possessing liability insurance, current CPR or basic life support certification, current immunizations and certification as a surgical technologist.

Program Coursework

Students in surgical first assistant certificate programs prepare to assist surgeons with operations. They learn to identify and use medical and surgical instruments, as well as study the process of dealing with human tissues and physiology. Students also learn to regulate blood flow and the process of stitching and closing body planes post-operations. Other studies may include:

  • Structure of the body
  • Medical functions and responsibilities
  • Patient care administration
  • Medical ethics
  • Symptoms health conditions

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 19% growth for employment of all surgical technologist jobs between 2010 and 2020 ( In a May 2012 report, the BLS also indicated that the annual average salary for surgical technologists, including CFAs, was $43,480.

Professional Certification Information

Graduates of an accredited first assistant program may apply to become certified through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. This organization issues the credentials of CFA. Eligibility to become certified includes passing a computer-based exam which consists of 200 multi-choice questions; applicants have four hours to complete the test. Applicants must also possess and submit verification for two years of experience as a first assistant and experience witnessing a minimum of 350 cases.

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