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Certified First Assistant Education Requirements and Job Duties

Certified first assistants require some formal education. Learn about the necessary education, job duties and certification requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Certified first assistants aid surgeons by prepping patients, dressing wounds and providing post-operative care. They need to complete a CSFA certification program prior to entering the workforce. Most 1-2 year programs require completion of college-level course work prior to starting the program.

Essential Information

A certified first assistant, also called a Certified Surgical First Assistant (CSFA), is a medical professional who assists surgeons during surgeries. Accredited CSFA education programs are available at the certificate and associate's degree levels that satisfy the training and eligibility requirements to sit for the requisite certification exam. Since this is an upper-level position, applicants to CSFA programs typically must already work in the health field, whether as licensed surgical technologists, nurses or in a similar position.

Required Education Completion of a CSFA certificate or associate's degree program
Certification and Licensure Current licensure or certification as a surgical technologist or similar professional; CPR certification
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 15% (for surgical technologists)
Median Annual Salary (May 2015)* $44,330 (for surgical technologists)

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

CSFA Education Requirements

A common path to becoming a certified first assistant includes completing a training program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). These training programs commonly maintain prerequisite acceptance requirements that may include current certification as a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) or Certified Nurse-Operating Room (CNOP), current CPR certification and completion of college-level coursework in such subjects as microbiology and physiology. Some applicants complete a bachelor's or advanced degree in nursing or a related subject before applying to a CSFA program.

Accredited programs are commonly 1-2 years in length and culminate in either a certificate or associate's degree. Some schools offer a portion of their curriculum in online formats. Coursework may include surgical anatomy and perioperative bioscience. Programs also typically include completion of practical experience called a clinical preceptorship.

Certification Requirements

Becoming a CSFA requires passing the Certified Surgical First Assistant examination administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). It's composed of 175 graded, multiple-choice questions, of which 112 must be answered correctly to pass. To be eligible to sit for this exam, the applicant must be a graduate from a CAAHEP-accredited training program. This requirement may be waived by satisfying specific work experience, continuing education and certification requirements.

Job Duties

Certified first assistants are trained to provide direct support to surgeons during surgical procedures. Their job duties include positioning and prepping patients prior to surgery, ensuring clear visibility for the surgeon by using instruments such as retractors and sponges, controlling bleeding, closing surgery sites using sutures or staples and properly dressing wounds. They also collaborate with doctors and other surgical team members to ensure proper post-operative care of patients.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment for surgical technologists, including first assistants, is expected to grow 15% from 2014-2024 due to the increasing demand for surgical procedures, especially among the elderly population. In May 2015, surgical technologists, including first assistants, earned a median annual salary of $44,330, according to the BLS.

Certified first assistants must complete a CAAHEP-accredited training program and pass an exam before being cleared to work. Many candidates complete an associate's or bachelor's degree in addition to a certification program. Once in the workforce, they assist surgeons to make sure everything goes smoothly before, during and after surgical procedures.

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