How to Become a Cosmetic Surgery Assistant

Learn how to become a cosmetic surgery assistant. Research the job description and the education requirements and find out how to start a career in cosmetic surgery assisting. View article »

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Video Transcript

Cosmetic Surgery Assistant

Cosmetic surgery assistants, otherwise known as plastic surgery physician assistants, work with cosmetic surgeons in and out of the operating room. They handle a wide variety of tasks, from administrative duties, such as scheduling and processing discharge papers, to surgical duties, such as preparing tools and assisting with surgeries. Many work hours may be spent standing, and these professionals are often scheduled during nights, weekends and holidays.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree is standard
Degree Field Physician assistant with a focus on surgical assisting
Licensure and Certification License required in all 50 states; must pass the certification exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) to become licensed
Experience Experience requirements vary, but prior experience in a healthcare setting is often required by employers
Key Skills Care and compassion for others, attention to detail, ability to work under pressure, strong office skills, many surgical and procedural skills equal to those of a cosmetic surgeon
Salary (2015) $98,180 yearly (median for all physician assistants)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants

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Become a Cosmetic Surgery Assistant

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Following graduation from high school or the completion of a GED program, individuals wishing to become cosmetic surgery assistants should earn a bachelor's degree in a health-related field, such as nursing or paramedicine. These programs provide core knowledge and help prepare students for success in an accredited physician assistant program. Common coursework in a health-related bachelor's degree program may include anatomy, biology and advanced math.

Step 2: Gain Experience

In order to enroll in a physician assistant program, individuals must have health-related work experience. For example, an applicant may need to work as a nurse or emergency medical technician before pursuing physician assistant training. Having experience in the field ensures that prospective physician assistants are familiar with performing medical-related procedures and working with patients.

Success Tip

  • Work in a cosmetic surgery setting. Health professionals, such as nurses, who want to eventually work as cosmetic surgery assistants may want to gain initial employment in a plastic surgeon's office.

Step 3: Earn a Master's Degree in Physician Assisting

After earning a bachelor's degree and gaining experience, prospective cosmetic surgery assistants should enroll in an accredited physician assistant (PA) program that focuses on surgical assisting. PA programs generally take two years to complete and result in a master's degree. By enrolling in a PA program that focuses on surgical assisting, students get the education necessary to become successful in and out of the operating room. Common coursework for a PA program includes anatomy, pathology, medicine and medical ethics. Most PA programs also include clinical training, which provides a more hands-on approach to learning.

Success Tip

  • Participate in a PA residency. A PA residency offers individuals a chance to gain experience in a cosmetic surgery office. Those who do not have prior cosmetic surgery experience can work and learn under an experienced PA and begin gaining specific skills in the field.

Step 4: Get Certified

After graduating from a physician assistant program, aspiring cosmetic surgery assistants can take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) and apply for certification. The exam, which is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) tests a physician assistant's overall medical and surgical knowledge. If an individual passes the test, he or she is eligible for licensing and can use the PA-C designation while maintaining certification.

Success Tip

  • Complete continuing education. The NCCPA requires continuing education to maintain certification and keep abreast of advancements in the field. Every two years, certified physician assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing education in order to maintain their certification. After six years, they must take a recertifying exam.

Step 5: Join a Professional Organization

Once a cosmetic surgery assistant is certified, he or she has the option of joining a professional organization. These organizations can provide support and opportunities for members.

The Association of Plastic Surgery Physician Assistants (APSPA) is a group that allows cosmetic surgery assistants to network with other assistants and surgeons, attend continuing education conferences and have access to the latest job postings. To join, cosmetic surgery assistants must have completed an accredited (ARC-PA) physician assistant program or be NCCPA certified. Alternatively, cosmetic surgery assistants can also join the American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants (AASPA).

To summarize, cosmetic surgery assistants require experience in healthcare, and need to have completed a physician's assistant master's degree program. Additionally, a license is needed to practice.

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