A surgical assistant has an important role in an operating suite. Providing essential medical care to the patient, a surgical assistant serves as an intuitive assistant to the surgeon. In addition to preparing the patient prior to surgery, a surgical assistant performs medical tasks throughout the surgical procedure as directed by the surgeon. Given that a surgical assistant has a high level of responsibility for patient safety, a rigorous academic program along with a certification exam is required for this position.

Learn About Surgeon Assistant Years of School

You can expect to spend five years in school for a bachelor’s degree and a one-year postgraduate program. Review the specific educational requirements before you begin college.

You may also be able to enter the profession if you have an associate degree in a health field and three years of experience as a CST, CNOR or PAC or if you have medical and surgical assistance experience gained during military service. Physicians can sit for the surgical assistant certification exam without taking any additional coursework.

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Earn an Undergraduate Degree

The most likely path to become a surgical assistant begins by earning an undergraduate degree in science that includes specific preparatory courses. If your bachelor’s degree is not in a health-related field, you’ll still need science and medical prerequisite courses. A minimum GPA of 2.5 is usually required, but a higher GPA will help you remain competitive in the admission process. Common prerequisite courses include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • General biology
  • General chemistry with a lab
  • Microbiology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Medical terminology

Surgical Assistant Program

Expect to split your time between the classroom and clinical experience in a surgical assistant program. In the classroom, you’ll review anatomy and physiology and will learn about the specifics of an operating room and the detailed responsibilities of a surgical assistant. Clinical time will help you learn about surgical procedures and skills like wound care, hemostasis and safety protocol. Clinical experience will help you prepare for the certification exam that’s required before you can begin working.

Discover the Duties of a Surgical Assistant

A surgical assistant reviews preoperative instructions and follows the direction of the surgeon during the surgery. The surgeon often relies on a surgical assistant to get all of the necessary equipment ready and assist with preparing the patient as needed for the surgery. Other duties may include:

  • Administering a pneumatic tourniquet
  • Draping the patient
  • Providing retraction of tissue or organs
  • Applying surgical equipment
  • Clamping, cutting or ligating tissue
  • Ensuring the field remains sterile
  • Closing wounds
  • Applying dressings or bandages
  • Participating in patient resuscitation

Consider the Regulated States and Required Certification

Once you finish your surgical assistant program, you’ll need to pass the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting exam or a similar exam offered by the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants. Your program will help you prepare for these exams. The following states have additional regulations and requirements for surgical assistants:

  • Texas
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Colorado
  • Virginia
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • Tennessee

Work Environment of a Surgical Assistant

Virtually all types of surgical procedures require the presence of a surgical assistant. Surgical assistants may have scheduled surgeries that allow for a regular work schedule. You may also be called upon to serve in off-schedule surgeries as a result of a traumatic accident or sudden medical illness.

Check Out the Surgeon Assistant Salary and Job Outlook

In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that the average annual surgeon assistant salary was $47,300, or $22.74 per hour. Outpatient care centers report higher wages for this position. Job opportunities for surgical assistants are expected to grow by 12 percent between 2016 and 2026.

About the Author

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.