Certified Surgical Assistant Programs: Certification and Training Info
As members of the healthcare team responsible for patients undergoing medical operations, surgical assistants, also called first assistants, streamline functions for the surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses in the operating room. Their duties may range from testing equipment to preparing patients for surgery and monitoring post-op recovery. Many surgical assistant programs prepare students for professional certification. Certification is voluntary, but may be preferred by employers.
Surgical Assistant Training Programs
Becoming a certified surgical assistant requires specialized training through an accredited program,, which are typically certificate programs, but associate degree programs in surgical assisting are available as well. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredits surgical assistant training programs (www.caahep.org).
CAAHEP-accredited surgical assisting programs generally range from 10-22 months. In addition to showing students how to anticipate the needs of surgical team members and perform other patient care duties, many training programs are designed to prepare graduates for examinations to become certified surgical assistants.
Surgical assistant certificate programs usually require at least a Bachelor of Science degree, or an associate's degree with a minimum of three years of relevant experience. Certification or military surgery experience may also be considered as a prerequisite. Work experience in an operating room is preferred, and students must carry liability insurance. Often, students must complete prerequisites in courses such as physiology and anatomy.
Education programs for future surgical assistants are a combination of classroom training and hands-on instruction during clinical rotations. Coursework covers topics in patient care, medical ethics and policy. Other classes cover:
- Advanced anatomy and physiology
- Surgical procedures and methodology
- Surgical specialty areas
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Certified surgical assistants can work in a number of specialty fields, such as pediatric surgery, emergency care and trauma, burn units and transplant surgery. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 25% employment growth for surgical technologists or assistants from 2008-2018, which is much faster than average (www.bls.gov). This projected growth is due in part to an anticipated increase in the number of surgical procedures that will be performed.
Professional Certification and Continuing Education for Surgical Assistants
According to the BLS, certification is optional for surgical assistants, but employers may give preference to job applicants who are certified. There is no single national credential for certified surgical assistants, but a number of organizations offer different options. Educational requirements vary by credential, and all certifications require proof of training and passage of an examination. Certifications for surgical assistants include:
- Certified Surgical Assistant (CSA) offered by the National Surgical Assistant Association
- Certified Surgical First Assistant (CSFA) and Certified Surgical Technologist (CST), offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting
- Surgical Assistant - Certified (SA-C) offered by the American Board of Surgical Assistants
In order to maintain professional credentials, surgical assistants must complete continuing education or retake certification exams. Continuing education coursework for surgical assistants may cover advances in surgical techniques, pharmacological research or the use of new instruments and equipment.
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