Certified First Assistant: Career and Salary Facts

Certified first assistants work in an operating room assisting a surgeon. Continue reading to learn more about job duties, potential salary, education requirements and certification. Schools offering Surgical Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Certified First Assistant?

A first assistant is a surgical technologist who has completed the additional education necessary to play a hands-on role when assisting surgeons during an operation. While most surgical technologists only perform hands-off duties, like sterilizing supplies and handing surgeons instruments, surgical first assistants have additional responsibilities, such as suctioning incision sites or suturing wounds. Certification for these professionals is available through industry organizations.

Check out the table below for more information on this career:

Degree Required Certificate or associate's
Education Required Surgical technology or surgical first assistant
Key Responsibilities Operating room prep, skin prep, wound dressing, passing surgical instruments
Certification Requirements Voluntary but preferred; Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) or Certified Surgical First Assistant (CSFA)
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15%* (for all surgical technologists)
Median Salary (2015) $44,330* (for all surgical technologists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of a Certified First Assistant?

A certified first assistant (CFA), also called a surgical first assistant (SFA) or certified surgical first assistant (CSFA), is a type of surgical technologist who has completed specialized training and earned the appropriate credential. As a CFA, you might work in a hospital, outpatient surgical center or medical facility. In some cases, you might be directly employed by a particular surgeon, or you might work for many different doctors.

You'll work directly under a surgeon, helping ensure that procedures are completed safely. This can involve assisting with a variety of technical tasks, including maintaining hemostasis, aiding in providing proper exposure, clamping blood vessels and assisting with closure. You might also perform skin preparation, patient positioning and wound dressing.

Simple operations, such as repairing a hernia, typically don't utilize a certified first assistant; rather, you might be involved in more invasive surgeries. To help ensure a safe surgery, medical bylaws don't allow you to play any other technologist role while acting as a certified first assistant. For example, another technologist would need to play the scrub role of passing instruments to the surgeon.

How Much Might I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of surgical technologists is expected to increase by 15% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). This is much faster than the expected growth rate for all jobs. Certified technologists are expected to see the best job opportunities. The BLS also reported that surgical technologists earned a median salary of $44,330 per year as of 2015.

What Type of Degree Do I Need?

In order to work as a surgical technologist, you need to complete a formal training program. Many diploma, certificate and associate's degree programs are available from a variety of sources, including community colleges, universities, vocational schools and hospitals. If you want to become certified, the program you choose must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

You may be able to become certified by completing a general surgical technology program and then gaining work experience as a surgical first assistant. However, many employers prefer their SFAs to already have certification, so you may need to complete a training program specific to surgical first assisting. A few associate's degree programs are available in this field that take two years to complete. If you've already completed a general surgical technology program and gained some work experience, you might be eligible for a certificate program. First assistant certificate programs are quite common and can often be completed in one year or less.

In a surgical first assisting certificate program, you'll learn about various surgical procedures and how surgical instruments are used. Some of your courses might include anatomy and physiology, advanced surgical pharmacology, pathophysiology, patient management, surgical first assistant techniques, medical ethics and surgical specialties. Such programs are also likely to include some form of supervised clinical component that allows you to gain hands-on experience.

How Do I Get Certified?

Certification of surgical technologists is voluntary, but many employers prefer or require it. Certification for this field is offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). In addition to the more general Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential, the NBSTSA also offers a Certified Surgical First Assistant (CSFA) designation.

Several eligibility options exist for the CSFA credential. Completing a CAAHEP-accredited surgical first assistant program is one option. If you already have a current CST credential, you can qualify for the CSFA credential based on prior work experience as a surgical first assistant. If you're currently certified through the National Surgical Assistants Association (NSAA), you can qualify by completing continuing education requirements. Regardless of eligibility, you'll need to pass a test and pay a fee in order to get certified.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are looking for a job in the medical field, you might also be interested in a job as a medical assistant. They perform basic patient care, like monitoring vital signs and assisting doctors with examinations. In addition, they perform clerical tasks, such as scheduling appointments and processing insurance payments. The minimum educational requirement is a postsecondary certificate. If you would prefer a job in a laboratory environment, you could become a medical laboratory technician, where you would work under the supervision of a medical laboratory technologist to assist with the analysis of biological samples for diagnostic and/or academic purposes. Medical technicians need to have completed at least a postsecondary certificate program in order to work.

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