Become a Surgeon's Assistant: Career Roadmap

A surgeon assistant must meet surgical assistant education requirements and may seek how to become a certified surgical assistant. All of this training prepares a surgical assistant to manage an operating room and help surgeons during surgeries. View article »

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How to Become a Surgical Assistant

A surgical assistant may also be called a surgical technologist or operating room technician. A surgery assistant helps surgeons prepare and perform various kinds of surgeries. Typically a surgeon assistant needs some postsecondary education and may pursue certification. Here we discuss how to become a surgical tech and the different surgical assistant requirements that exist.

Surgical Assistant Education

Students wondering 'how long is surgical assistant school?' or 'how long does it take to become a surgical assistant?' must consider which type of surgical assistant degree they wish to pursue. Surgical assistant programs in surgical technology are available at the certificate and associate's level. Certificate programs can usually be completed in 1 year, while associate's degree programs typically take 2 years to complete. These programs usually provide extensive hands-on experiences for students to practice their skills.

There are also certificate and associate's degree programs for aspiring surgical first assistants, who have more hands-on responsibilities during surgeries. There are even specific RN to surgical first assistant programs for nurses interested in surgery. Some of these programs may be available online, but may require an on-campus residency.

How to Become a Certified Surgical Assistant

Most surgical assistants must have certification in CPR and/or basic life support (BLS), but some assistants may pursue professional certification to help increase their chances of finding a job. There are several different surgical technology certification options, as well as different organizations that offer certification.

Students can choose from certification with the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting or National Center for Competency Testing. Some surgical technology programs may offer study resources for the certification exam, help pay for the exam, and/or allow students to take a certification exam on campus. In addition to the exam, students also need to document their technical skills and then complete continuing education requirements once they are certified.

For surgical first assistants, professional certification can come from the American Board of Surgical Assistants, the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, or the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants. There are some states that require surgical first assistants and/or surgical technologists to meet state regulations.

What is a Surgical Assistant?

Degree Required Certificate or associate's degree
Degree Field Surgical technology
Other Requirements Possible certification
Annual Mean Salary (2018)* $49,040 (for surgical technologists)
Estimated Job Growth (2016-2026)* 12% (for surgical technologists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Surgical assistants usually work full-time and may work long hours. They are typically required to stand for long amounts of time while helping surgeons in surgery. Other surgical assistant requirements and job duties may include:

  • Sterilizing surgical equipment
  • Prepping operating rooms
  • Moving patients
  • Keeping the operating room sterile
  • Handing instruments and supplies to the surgeon
  • Bandaging patients after surgery

Surgical Assistant Salary

In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that surgical technologists made an average annual salary of $49,040. The BLS reported that those that worked in a specialty hospital (except psychiatric and substance abuse) made the highest average salary of $55,110 for the same year. Payscale.com also reported that surgical assistants made an average annual salary of $58,070 as of July 2019.

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