How Can I Become a Surgeon's Assistant?

Explore the career requirements for surgeon's assistants. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Surgeon's Assistant?

A surgeon's assistant is a physician assistant who is trained specifically to aid physicians during surgical procedures. Surgeon's assistants help surgeons during procedures by positioning patients, closing wounds, applying bandages and providing hemostasis, among other responsibilities. They also meet with the patient beforehand to discuss the procedure, and they monitor the patient's recovery after it is complete. Some specialize in a particular type of surgery, such as cardiovascular surgery, orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery or trauma surgery.

The following table details professional certification options and typical skills needed to become a surgeon's assistant.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree at minimum, though a master's degree may be required
Education Field of Study Surgical assisting or related field
Certification Required National Surgical Assistant Association certification
Certified Surgical First Assistant
Key Skills Clear headed, detail oriented, medical knowledge
Job Growth (2014-2024) 30% (for all physician assistants)*
Average Salary (2015) $99,270 (for all physician assistants)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Training for Surgeon's Assistants

In order to enroll in an accredited surgical assistant training program, you usually need professional healthcare experience or a degree in science, physician assisting or an allied health field. Certain programs require prior working knowledge of operating room procedures.

In a surgical first assisting program, you learn how to provide exposure, control bleeding and perform other functions during the surgical process. You also gain hands-on experience through clinical rotations on surgical resident teams. Surgical assistant programs may take 10-22 months to complete; most of these programs prepare you for certification.

Get Certified

You can sit for the National Surgical Assistant Association's certification exam after completing an approved training program in the field. Upon passing this exam, you're awarded the Certified Surgical Assistant credential.

You can also become a Certified Surgical First Assistant (CSFA) through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. You're qualified to take the certification exam after completing a surgical assisting program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. As a Certified Surgical Technologist, you may qualify for the CSFA credentialing exam if you've acted as a surgical first assistant during at least 350 procedures for two of the last four years.

What Duties Could I Have?

Surgical assistants fill a more complex role in the operating room than surgical technologists or technicians. As a surgeon's assistant, you help position patients, collect necessary surgical tools and prepare operating areas. During a procedure, you may retract a patient's tissues and organs in order to provide the surgeon with a clear view of the surgical area. Other duties include applying pressure to control blood flow and attaching pneumatic tourniquets. You could assist during spinal, craniofacial, vascular or cardiac surgeries, among others.

After a procedure, you close wounds with stitches, clips and other materials. You may examine the skin of patients to assess any damage done. Your responsibilities could vary depending on the operation or the medical center.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in seeking another position on the surgical team, a job as a nurse anesthetist might be a good choice for you. These advanced practice nurses administer anesthesia during surgery. They need a master's degree in nursing and a license to practice. Alternatively, as a physician assistant, you could choose to work for a different type of physician, such as a gastroenterologist or endocrinologist.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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