Becoming a certified surgical assistant requires specialized training through an accredited program. Certificate programs are the most typical, though associate degrees in surgical assisting are also available. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredits surgical assistant training programs (www.caahep.org).
These programs are generally 10-22 months long, and include clinical rotations and classroom education. Students learn how to anticipate the needs of surgical team members and perform other patient care duties. Applicants must have a Bachelor of Science or an associate's degree with at least three years of relevant experience. Students must also carry liability insurance and complete prerequisite courses in such areas as physiology and anatomy.
Many training programs are designed to prepare graduates for examinations to become certified surgical assistants. Continuing education is necessary to retain one's credentials.
Certificate Programs in Surgical Assisting
Coursework in these programs discusses topics in patient care, medical ethics and policy. Other classes cover:
- Advanced anatomy and physiology
- Surgical procedures and methodology
- Surgical specialty areas
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Certified surgical assistants can work in a number of specialty fields, such as pediatric surgery, emergency care and trauma, burn units and transplant surgery. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 15% growth in surgical technologist jobs from 2014-2024, which is much faster than average (www.bls.gov). This projected growth is due in part to an anticipated increase in the number of surgical procedures that will be performed.
Certification and Continuing Education
According to the BLS, certification is optional for surgical assistants, but employers may give preference to job applicants who are certified. There is no single national credential for certified surgical assistants, but a number of organizations offer different options. Educational requirements vary by credential, and all certifications require proof of training and passage of an examination. Certifications for surgical assistants include:
- Certified Surgical Assistant (CSA) offered by the National Surgical Assistant Association
- Certified Surgical First Assistant (CSFA) and Certified Surgical Technologist (CST), offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting
- Surgical Assistant - Certified (SA-C) offered by the American Board of Surgical Assistants
In order to maintain professional credentials, surgical assistants must complete continuing education or retake certification exams. Continuing education coursework for surgical assistants may cover advances in surgical techniques, pharmacological research or the use of new instruments and equipment.
The duties of surgical assistants, also called first assistants, may range from testing equipment, to preparing patients for surgery, to monitoring post-op recovery. Graduates of certificate programs in surgical assisting will have the knowledge to not only perform these tasks, but also earn voluntary professional certifications to prove their competency, as they'll learn about surgical methodology, human anatomy and pharmacology.