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Job Description of an Operating Room Assistant

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a operating room assistant. Get a quick view of the requirements, as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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An operating room assistant helps surgeons, anesthesiologists and other members of the surgical team maintain a sterile environment during operations. A certificate, diploma or associate's degree is usually required to obtain this position. Voluntary certification may help operating room assistants secure employment.

Essential Information

Operating room assistants, also known as surgical technologists or operating room technicians, help with surgical procedures under the supervision of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and other members of the surgical team. They also ensure that the operating room is clean before, during and after surgery. Operating room assistants usually complete accredited training through a certificate, diploma or associate's degree program and obtain voluntary certification in order to gain employment.

Required Education Certificate, diploma or associate's degree in surgical technology
Certification Voluntary certification is available through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA)
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 15% for surgical technologists*
Median Salary (2015) $44,330 for surgical technologists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Operating Room Assistant Job Description

The main responsibility of an operating room assistant is to maintain a sterile environment for the patient and surgical team before, during and after surgery. Before surgery, an assistant prepares the operating room by washing and sterilizing all surgical instruments and equipment using special cleaners known as germicides. The assistant then prepares the patient for surgery by washing, shaving and disinfecting incision sites. Finally, the assistant scrubs, gloves, masks and gowns the surgical team. During surgery, the operating room assistant may pass surgical instruments to the surgeon, cut sutures, apply dressings and prepare specimens for laboratory analysis. After surgery, the assistant transports the patient to the recovery room and cleans the operating room for the next procedure.

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Education Requirements

Operating room assistants receive training by enrolling in a surgical technology program through a community college, technical school or hospital. Programs can last anywhere from 9-24 months and result in a diploma, certificate or associate's degree. Students should choose a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs in order to sit for certification after graduation. Certification is granted after passing a computer-based test, which is administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). After passage, the NBSTSA awards the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential. Although the process is not always required, most employers prefer to hire certified professionals.

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for surgical technologists, including operating room technicians, was expected to grow by 15% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations. As the baby boom generation continues to age, hospitals and surgical centers will see a rise in the number of surgical cases and require the use of operating room assistants. The BLS reported in May 2015 that the median annual salary earned by surgical technologists was $44,330.

Essentially, operating room assistants are there to help other members of a surgical team ensure a sterile operating environment for patients. Completion of a surgical technology program resulting in a certificate, diploma or associate's degree is required. Though not a formal requirement, certification is preferred by most employers.

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