Surgical Assistant Degree and Certificate Program Information

Surgical assistants, also known as surgical technologists, are responsible for a number of functions, such as preparing the operating room and helping to prepare patients for surgery. Those interested in this profession can pursue undergraduate and graduate education options.

Essential Information

Undergraduate certificate and associate degree programs in surgical assisting can qualify individuals for entry-level jobs in the field. Individuals who already hold bachelor's degrees in biology or health science may pursue graduate certificate options to obtain specialization or to change career paths. Both education options train students through lectures, labs, and clinical rotations. Certification in the field is optional but recommended, and available through several professional organizations.

  • Program Levels: Associate degree; certificate program.
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED is needed for associate programs. A bachelor's degree in allied health, exercise science, nursing, biology, or related discipline; CPR certification; vaccination records and/or experience may be required for certificate programs.
  • Program Length: Two years for an associate's degree; two semesters for certificate programs.
  • Other Requirements: Clinical experiences are typically expected in both programs.

Associate Degree for Surgical Assistants

Associate degree programs train students to assist surgeons in the operating room before, during, and after a surgical procedure. Graduates will typically be familiar with surgical tools and instruments, and will be able to assess surgical complications. These programs can be completed in two years. Students commonly learn through a curriculum that combines courses, lab studies, seminars, and clinical rotations. Typical topics of study include:

  • Surgical specialties capstone
  • Statistics
  • Mathematics for the health profession
  • Pathogenic microbiology
  • Treatment of disease, illness and injury
  • Surgical specialties

Surgical Assistant Graduate Certificate

These graduate certificate programs are typically designed to offer the opportunity to switch career paths to individuals who have already earned a bachelor's degree in a relevant subject. Such programs are meant to qualify graduates for positions as surgical technologists and for voluntary industry certifications. Programs typically last two semesters. The curriculum includes both didactic courses and supervised clinical training to obtain experience working in the operating room. Students may also attend seminars and complete independent study projects. Courses may include:

  • Pharmacology
  • Surgical assisting procedures
  • Medical terminology for surgical assistants
  • Surgical pathophysiology
  • Medical-legal practice issues
  • Surgical specialties

Popular Career Options

Upon completion of surgical assistant programs, graduates are qualified for positions in several medical settings. Popular career titles include:

  • Surgical technologist
  • Operating room technician
  • Surgical assistant
  • Scrub
  • Certified surgical technologist

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment of surgical technologists was expected to grow 30% between 2012 and 2022 ( According to the BLS, the best paying jobs for this profession are found at home healthcare centers and colleges, although hospitals are still the primary employers for surgical assistants. The BLS also reported that surgical technologists earned a median annual salary of $43,350 as of May 2014.

Continuing Education Information

Graduates of certificate programs may seek immediate employment as surgical assistants or may pursue further education in this field. They may wish to earn bachelor's degrees in surgical technology to improve their employment opportunities. Professional certifications may also improve job prospects. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA),the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) and the National Surgical Assistant Association (NSAA) all offer voluntary certification for surgical assistants or technologists.

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