Salary and Career Info for Certified First Assistants

May 11, 2021

Surgery is an intense operation, sometimes with the pateint's life at stake. However, surgeons are not alone. They rely on certified first assistants to prepare both the patient and tools for the procedure.

Essential Information

Certified first assistants are surgical technologists who help surgeons carry out their operations by assisting in procedures and ensuring that the environment around them is sterile. Certificate and associate's degree programs are most commonly available in the surgical technology field. Certification is available through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) to those who complete an accredited college program and have appropriate work experience.

Required Education Certificate or an associate's degree in surgical technology
Certification Surgical first assistant certification through the NBSTSA, CPR and/or basic life support
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 7% for surgical technologists
Median Annual Salary (2020)* $49,710 for surgical technologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, as of May 2020, surgical technologists made a median annual wage of $49,710. Approximately 76,770 workers were employed by general medical and surgical hospitals. The highest wages were earned by those employed in colleges, universities, and professional schools, at a mean of $57,590 at that time.

Career Info

Job Duties

Certified first assistants keep surgery running smoothly for surgeons. For instance, they help regulate patient blood flow and prevent hemorrhaging; they also make sure that the patient's surgical site is unobstructed, which allows the surgeon to access it with ease.

Additional general duties of first assistants may include preparing patients for surgery, and sterilizing instruments and operating rooms before surgical procedures. Finally, they clean and restock surgical rooms to prepare them for additional surgeries.


Certification for surgical first assistants is available through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). There are two ways to attain this certification. Candidates can qualify to be a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) with at least two years of work experience and 350 cases of surgical first assisting in the past two years. They can also complete a surgical assistant program at an academic institution accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Either way, applicants must pass an exam administered by the NBSTSA.

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