Surgical assistants work in operating rooms assisting surgeons by preparing the necessary equipment, helping position and draping patients, providing needed instruments during the operation and keeping the area sterile. Surgical assistants usually have prior medical training, along with formal training in the surgical assisting discipline.
Surgical assistants provide support to surgeons before and during an operation and a limited amount of care to patients after an operation. They may specialize in areas like orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, cardiac surgery and obstetric surgery. Aspiring surgical assistants receive training in an allied health profession before completing a surgical assisting program. Although certification is not mandatory, the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, the American Board of Surgical Assisting, the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist and the National Surgical Assistants Association offer credentials that may allow assistants access to more job opportunities.
|Required Education||Certificate or associate's degree in surgical assisting or technology; prior medical training usually required|
|Certification||Voluntary through several organizations|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||15% for surgical technologists*|
|Median Salary (September 2015)||$44,330 for surgical technologists*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Education Requirements for Certified Surgical Assistants
Surgical assistant programs usually require applicants to have completed prior medical training. Military medical training or an associate's degree in a health field with three years experience may be sufficient. Other programs require applicants to be Licensed Practical Nurses or certified surgical technologists. Prerequisite coursework includes anatomy and physiology, microbiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology and medical terminology.
Candidates for a surgical assisting certificate may enroll in an undergraduate or graduate level program depending on prior education completed. Common courses include anesthetics and anesthesia methods, surgical complications, clinical computer applications, medical ethics and operating room procedures. Most programs require students to complete a minimum number of hours in a clinical setting.
Certification of surgical assistants is a new concept and is not required by most states. There are multiple certifying bodies that award official recognition to surgical assistants, each with its own examination and competency standards. They include the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, the American Board of Surgical Assisting, the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist and the National Surgical Assistants Association. Because there is no central authority or universally recognized standard as yet, the value of certifying as a surgical assistant is not yet clear. However, demonstrating the willingness to become certified may have value to some employers.
Job Duties and Skills
Surgical assistants have multiple duties associated with preparing for and participating in surgery. Pre-surgery duties include determining what equipment will be needed for an operation; positioning x-rays or other images for reference; moving and positioning patients; and inserting catheters. During surgery, they drape patients according to the surgeon's instructions; hand over instruments requested by the surgeon; retract, clamp, ligate and cut tissues as instructed; maintain a sterile environment; insert drainage tubes; close wounds; and select and apply bandages.
After completing specific postsecondary training, surgical assistants can qualify for voluntary certification. According to the BLS, the growth outlook for surgical assistants is 15%, faster than the overall average growth for all occupations.