Ophthalmic Surgical Assistant: Job Description and Requirements

Certified physician assistants (PAs) looking to pursue a surgical career in the ophthalmic field of eye and vision health will find rewarding work as ophthalmic surgical assistants. Continue reading for more information on ophthalmic surgical assistant careers.

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Career Definition for an Ophthalmic Surgical Assistant

With a career as an ophthalmic surgical assistant, certified surgical assistants interested in the treatment of eye and vision health can assist ophthalmologists in a variety of eye surgeries, making diagnoses and treatment recommendations, scheduling procedures, and caring for patients pre- and post-operation. Surgical assistants are considered the 'champions of patient safety,' according to the American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants (AASPA), and may work in hospitals, medical centers or physician's clinics.

Required Education Bachelor's degree followed by a physician assistant program accredited by ACR-PA
Job Duties Include assisting ophthalmologists in eye surgeries; making diagnoses, treatment recommendations; scheduling procedures
Median Salary (2017)* $104,860 (all physician assistants)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 37% growth (all physician assistants)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Required

People interested in ophthalmic surgical assistant careers should first become physician assistants by earning their bachelor's degree and then completing a physician assistant education program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission for Education of Physician Assistants (ACR-PA), says the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). Programs can be found at colleges, universities, and academic health centers and usually last two years; coursework covers topics such as clinical medicine, pharmacology, anatomy, and biochemistry. Upon graduation from the PA training, students must take a certification exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). These individuals may then enter the surgical field by completing a surgical residency in their chosen specialty; the AAPA reports that more than half of all physician assistants work in specialty practice. NCCPA certification must be maintained with 100 hours of continuing medical practice every two years, as well as a re-certification exam every six years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Skills Required

Along with proper certification and residency experience, ophthalmic surgery assistants must have a keen interest in eye and vision health, a concern for patient care, and a high degree of self-motivation. A commitment to continuing education is essential, as is attention to detail and an ability to make decisions quickly in emergency situations.

Career Outlook

The BLS predicts much faster than average growth rate of 37% in physician assistant jobs during the 2016-2026 decade. Physician assistants and surgical staff, such as ophthalmic surgical assistants, help to offset reduction in surgical residency jobs and regulated resident hours, says the AASPA, and increasing surgical assistant support is a cost-effective way to meet steady demands in the surgical field. Job opportunities will be particularly numerous in rural and inner-city areas, according to the BLS. A median salary for this career was $104,860 per year in 2017, per the BLS.

Alternate Career Options

Here are some examples of alternative career options:

Surgical Technologist

Normally earning an associate's degree or a postsecondary certificate, these operating room technicians prepare operating rooms and assist doctors during surgical operations. Faster than average employment growth of 12% was anticipated by the BLS from 2016-2026, and an annual median salary of $46,310 was reported for surgical technologists in 2017.

Medical Assistant

Depending on the state's requirements, these assistants may enter the profession with just a high school diploma or may be required to earn a certificate in a postsecondary program. Also depending on state guidelines and employer preferences, medical assistants may fulfill just administrative or possibly clinical tasks in doctors' offices. Much faster than average job growth of 29% is forecast by the BLS from 2016-2026. In 2017, a median annual wage of $32,480 was reported for medical assistants.

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