Surgical Assistant Degree and Certificate Program Information

Jan 02, 2019

Surgical assistant associate degree and graduate certificate programs teach students how to assist surgeons and perform other jobs in the operating room.

Essential Information

Undergraduate certificate and associate degree programs in surgical assisting can qualify individuals for entry-level jobs in the field. Individuals who already hold bachelor's degrees in biology, health or exercise science, nursing, or a related discipline may pursue graduate certificate options to obtain specialization or to change career paths. Both education options train students through lectures, labs, and clinical rotations. Certification in the field is optional but recommended, and available through several professional organizations. Prerequisites include having CPR certification, and vaccination records and/or experience may be required for certificate programs. Clinical experiences are typically expected in both programs.

Associate Degree for Surgical Assistants

Associate degree programs train students to assist surgeons in the operating room before, during, and after a surgical procedure. Graduates will typically be familiar with surgical tools and instruments, and will be able to assess surgical complications. These programs can be completed in two years. Students commonly learn through a curriculum that combines courses, lab studies, seminars, and clinical rotations. Typical topics of study include:

  • Surgical specialties capstone
  • Statistics
  • Mathematics for the health profession
  • Pathogenic microbiology
  • Treatment of disease, illness and injury
  • Surgical specialties

Surgical Assistant Graduate Certificate

These graduate certificate programs are typically designed to offer the opportunity to switch career paths to individuals who have already earned a bachelor's degree in a relevant subject. Such programs are meant to qualify graduates for positions as surgical technologists and for voluntary industry certifications. Programs typically last two semesters. The curriculum includes both didactic courses and supervised clinical training to obtain experience working in the operating room. Students may also attend seminars and complete independent study projects. Courses may include:

  • Pharmacology
  • Surgical assisting procedures
  • Medical terminology for surgical assistants
  • Surgical pathophysiology
  • Medical-legal practice issues
  • Surgical specialties

Popular Career Options

Upon completion of surgical assistant programs, graduates are qualified for positions in several medical settings. Popular career titles include:

  • Surgical technologist
  • Operating room technician
  • Surgical assistant
  • Scrub
  • Certified surgical technologist

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment of surgical technologists was expected to grow 15% between 2014 and 2024 ( According to the BLS, the best paying jobs for this profession are found at home healthcare centers and colleges, although hospitals are still the primary employers for surgical assistants. The BLS also reported that surgical technologists earned a median annual salary of $44,330 as of May 2015.

Continuing Education Information

Graduates of certificate programs may seek immediate employment as surgical assistants or may pursue further education in this field. They may wish to earn bachelor's degrees in surgical technology to improve their employment opportunities. Professional certifications may also improve job prospects. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA),the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) and the National Surgical Assistant Association (NSAA) all offer voluntary certification for surgical assistants or technologists.

Surgical assistant degree programs can be completed in two years for an associate's degree or two semesters for a graduate certificate program. These programs train students to assist surgeons in the operating room.

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