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Schools for Aspiring Certified First Assistants

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

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Schools with Certified First Assistant Programs

The following schools offer programs for students who wish to be certified first assistants.

College/University Location Institution Type Degrees Offered Tuition and Fees (2015-16)
Delaware County Community College Media, PA 2-year, Public Undergraduate Certificate $4,760 in-district, $8,350 in-state, $11,840 out-of-state*
Southern Illinois University - Carbondale Carbondale, IL 4-year, Public Bachelor's Degree $13,137 in-state, $26,390 out-of-state*
GateWay Community College Phoenix, AZ 2-year, Public Associate's, Undergraduate Certificate $2,046 in-state, $7,830 out-of-state*
Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences Rochester, MN 4-year, Private not-for-profit Postgraduate Certificate $18,684**
Luzerne County Community College Nanticoke, PA 2-year, Public Undergraduate Certificate $4,770 in-district, $8,700 in-state, $12,630 out-of-state

Sources: *NCES College Navigator; **Mayo.edu.

School Selection Criteria

Consider the following when selecting a first assistant school:

  • 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.
  • Aspiring first assistants should ensure a school's curriculum complies with the accrediting agency recognized by the state in which they intend to practice.
  • Upon graduating and passing a certification exam, first assistants must register with the medical board of their state.
  • Program length can range from three semesters to one year. Prospective students should identify the length and breadth of a program's clinical component to ensure they are able to fulfill the requirement.

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, and dressing wounds.

Most certified first assistant programs are undergraduate certificate programs, although there are also a few degrees and postgraduate certificates which can also lead to certification.

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