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Schools for Aspiring Certified First Assistants

First assistants provide support to surgeons in the operating room. The majority of first assistants are registered nurses, surgical technologists or physician assistants. Certificate programs to prepare individuals for this career are offered at both 2-year vocational and community colleges and at universities around the nation.

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How to Select a First Assistant School

In addition to requiring applicants to be licensed medical professionals, most programs also require two years of experience in an operating room and recommendations from physicians or hospital employers stating that the applicant has knowledge of certain practices, such as wound suturing.

Factors to Consider

  • Accreditation
  • State guidelines
  • Time commitment


Aspiring first assistants should ensure that a school's curriculum complies with the accrediting agency recognized by the state in which they intend to practice. The Association of Surgical Technologists (AST), Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) provide guidelines for first assistant programs and certification examinations for graduates. Eligibility to sit for registered first assistant certification exams may depend on a program's accreditation. Moreover, prospective students should identify whether the program prepares students to sit for certification exams recognized by the state.

State Guidelines

Upon graduating and passing a certification exam, first assistants must often register with the medical board of their state. As such, prospective students should determine whether a program meets state guidelines for registration. A program that does not fulfill state registration requirements may impede a graduate's ability to work as a first assistant.

Time Commitment

Additionally, most programs contain a clinical component. The length of these clinical experiences varies by program, but often require students to act as assistants for a certain number of hours of major and minor general, orthopedic, endoscopic and vascular surgeries. Prospective students should identify the length and breadth of a program's clinical component to ensure that they are able to fulfill the requirement.

Similarly, prospective first assistant students should consider the scheduling requirements of various programs. While some online programs are available, the majority of schools only offer in-person lectures and labs. Program length can range from three semesters to one year.

Surgical First Assistant Certificate Overview

First assistant certificate programs can be completed in about three semesters. They contain didactic instruction in the form of lectures and labs, as well as clinical requirements. The types of surgery addressed usually include general, gynecological, obstetrical, orthopedic and laparoscopic surgical techniques. Clinic requirements range from 120 to 400 hours in several different types of surgery. Program instruction includes:

  • Suturing techniques
  • Tissue handling
  • Surgical instrument use
  • Microbiology
  • Dressing wounds
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