Surgeon Assistant Job Description, Duties and Career Information

Sep 09, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a surgeon assistant. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about education options, job duties and licensing to find out if this is the career for you.

Surgical assistant programs are offered at the graduate level, either through a certificate or degree program. That means that aspiring surgical assistants must first complete an undergraduate degree before pursuing this specialty, and may also need to have some healthcare experience first.

Essential Information

Surgeon assistants, also called surgical assistants, provide assistance during an operation by performing a variety of crucial tasks. Their job duties vary depending on their place of employment. To enter this profession, individuals must complete a surgical assistant or physician assistant program, usually at the graduate level, and meet licensing standards.

Required Education Graduate certificate or degree in surgical assisting; previous healthcare experience may be required
Licensing Licensing required in all states; assistants must pass an exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants; the National Surgical Assistant Association also offers a surgical assistant credential
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 9% for surgical technologists*
Median Salary (2018) $47,300 for surgical technologists*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Surgical Assistant Job Description

According to the American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants (AASPA), surgical assistants are medical professionals who are trained to work in a surgical environment ( They may work in general surgery or in one of the many surgical specialties, including ophthalmology and orthopedics. Those who work in hospitals may coordinate treatment plans or order tests.

Surgical Assistant Job Duties

The AASPA indicates that the primary job of a surgical assistant is to aid a surgeon during a procedure. During a procedure, they perform critical tasks, such as applying dressings and ensuring that the area remains sterile. Surgical assistants may explain a procedure with a patient prior to surgery and perform routine checkups afterward.

The job duties for surgical assistants outside of surgery vary, depending on their employer. Surgical assistants who work in physician's offices may perform some clerical work, including record keeping and handling phone calls.

Surgical Assistant Career Information

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for surgical technologists, who perform similar surgical assisting duties, will grow a predicted 9% for the years 2018-2028. The BLS stated that surgical technologists earned $47,300 as a median yearly salary in 2018.

Educational Requirements

Most surgical or physician assistants programs are offered at the graduate level and may require previous healthcare experience. The coursework covers topics in anatomy, human diseases and pharmacology. Surgical and operating room techniques, such as wound closure, may be given their own course. Students must undergo clinical training, which involves performing supervised rotations in healthcare facilities.

Licensing Requirements

Like all physician assistants, surgical assistants must meet state licensing requirements. The BLS reports that all states require individuals to successfully complete the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). This exam is given by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants and passing it leads to the Physician Assistant-Certified credential ( The National Surgical Assistant Association offers a Certified Surgical Assistant credential, which also requires a passing score on the certifying exam (

Surgical assistants can assist in general surgery or specialized surgical procedures. Besides completion of a career related graduate certificate or degree program, surgical assistants also need to be licensed through one of two credential programs, depending on their state of employment.

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