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Surgical Assistant Degree and Certificate Program Information

The most common training options for surgical assistants include a graduate certificate and associate's degree program. Get information on what classroom and practical experience can be obtained, as well as common job titles, curriculum and median income.

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Essential 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. Undergraduate certificate and associate's degree programs can qualify students for such roles. Individuals already holding bachelor's degrees in biology or health science may pursue graduate certificate options for specialization or to change career paths. These programs train students through lectures, labs and clinical rotations. Certification in the field is optional and available through several professional organizations.

Associate's Degree for Surgical Assistants

Along with undergraduate certificate programs in surgical assisting, associate's degree programs can trains 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.

Education Prerequisites

Associate's degree programs typically require applicants to have high school diplomas or GEDs for admission. They may also need to have completed high school chemistry and biology courses.

Course Topics

Students commonly learn through a curriculum that combines courses, lab studies, seminars and clinical rotations. Typical topics of study include:

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

Continuing Education and Certification 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.

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.

Educational Prerequisites

Applicants must typically have earned bachelor's degrees in allied health, exercise science, nursing, biology or a related field for admission. Candidates must typically be certified in CPR and life support, and all vaccinations must be up to date. Although this may vary by school, experience working in the operating room may be preferred. Courses in anatomy and physiology, chemistry, microbiology and general biology must typically have been completed within the previous ten years.

Course Topics

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

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

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 health care 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 $42,720 as of May 2013.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics