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What Do Surgical Assistants Do?

Surgical assistants work in hospitals, universities, or clinics. They assist surgeons and physicians by getting patients ready for operations and performing important minor medical tasks during each surgery. Read this article to learn more about what a surgical assistant does, including the education and certification required.

Duties and Responsibilities

Surgical assistants help surgeons do their jobs safely and effectively. They may assist with any surgical discipline, such as neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, trauma surgery, or plastic surgery. Surgical assistants determine what equipment is needed for any given surgical procedure. They ensure that any necessary X-rays or tools are ready and confirm the correct surgery with the doctor. They help to prepare the patient for the operation by positioning the patient, placing sterile surgical drapes, and perhaps even inserting or removing a catheter. Surgical assistants provide additional support during the surgical process itself by clamping or adjusting the patient's body tissue, placing sutures, or applying dressings and drainage tubes. They are also trained to assist in resuscitation efforts or other emergency procedures in the operating room.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Median Salary (2018) $47,300 per year (surgical technologists)*
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 12% growth (surgical technologists)*
Key Skills Attention to detail; dexterity; integrity; physical stamina; stress management
Similar Occupations Medical Assistants; Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Training and Education

Accredited surgical assistant programs generally take 10-22 months to complete, according to the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP, www.caahep.org). CAAHEP recommends a Bachelor of Science degree and training in an allied health subject for those wishing to enter a surgical assistant program. The job duties of a surgical assistant are reflected in the curricula of these programs. Surgical assistants are also expected to understand ethical and legal concerns in medicine.

Surgical Assistant Certification

Graduates of CAAHEP-accredited surgical assistant programs or certified surgical technicians with work experience as surgical assistants can become certified. Such individuals are eligible to take the exam for the Certified First Assistant credential offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (www.nbstsa.org). Passing the exam requires proficiency in the procedures employed before, during, and after surgery, including the use of medical technology. Much of the exam covers medical science, such as physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, and anesthetics. Additionally, the National Surgical Assistant Association (www.nsaa.net) offers an exam that leads to the Certified Surgical Assistant credential.