The most common online training program for a prospective surgical assistant, or surgical first assistant, is a certificate in surgical assisting. Some online certificate programs can be completed in as little as one academic year. They qualify the student to sit for the national certification examinations from organizations like the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting or the National Surgical Assistant Association.
Throughout the course of a program, surgical assisting students learn methods to retract (move and hold) body tissues during surgery, apply dressings, suture surgical wounds and perform other surgical tasks. Programs are typically offered in a hybrid format that combines online coursework with a clinical experience at a local medical facility. In order to apply, prospective students must have previous experience and certification as surgical technologists, and they must submit a letter of agreement from their employer.
A surgical technologist practices sterile procedures and manages tools in the operating room. Surgical assistants need experience with those tasks in order to safely manipulate patients' tissues during surgery. Therefore, documented surgical technologist experience and certification are often mandatory for surgical assisting students.
Online programs typically require a letter from the student's current hospital agreeing to let the candidate obtain clinical experience on site during the certificate program. Clinical preceptors guide and evaluate students' development of surgical skills.
In addition, applicants to surgical assistant programs may need professional liability insurance; they submit health and immunization records and a copy of their current CPR certification. This is in addition to routine college admission requirements, including an application for admission, a skills assessment test and official transcripts.
Mandatory coursework is designed to provide a broad academic background that supports a variety of surgical specialties. Distance learning surgical assistant classes often cover:
- Introductory surgical technology
- Surgical anatomy
- Surgical pharmacology
- Perioperative bioscience
- Surgical assisting principles
Online classwork is supplemented with mandatory clinical experience at a local hospital, which allows students to gain practical, hands-on training assisting in operations. The clinical experience may include participation in a minimum number of general surgery, orthopedics, peripheral vascular and endoscopic surgery cases, as well as specialties selected by the student.
Online classes are available entirely online and usually completed in an asynchronous manner, enabling program participation to be completed at a convenient time and location. Student assignments are typically submitted electronically and testing often takes place online; some programs require proctored examinations.
Surgical technologists who want to advance to surgical assistant positions can get the necessary preparation for national certification exams from an online certificate program. Because these programs offer considerable scheduling flexibility, technologists may be able to continue working while they get ready for the test.