How to Become a <br>Surgical Assistant

How to Become a
Surgical Assistant

Eric Ciechanowski
By Eric Ciechanowski
Last Updated: January 20, 2020
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Deciding on a career is an important step that requires research. If you’re interested in becoming a Surgical Assistant, you are in the right place. Learn everything you need to know about Surgical Assistants, including what they do and how to become one.

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What Does a Surgical Assistant Do?

A Surgical Assistant assists the surgeon under the surgeon’s indirect and direct supervision before, during and after operations. Before surgeries, surgical assistants position the patient safely according to the surgeon’s orders and the patient’s limitations. They also may assist other medical professionals, such as the anesthesiologist, in preparing the patient for surgery. During the operation, surgical assistants complete tasks such as removing tissue, removing devices and drains, closing of surgical sites and applying appropriate dressings to surgical wounds. After the operation, the surgical assistant assists in the transfer of the surgical patient and accompanies the patient to recovery if needed.

Some common Surgical Assistant duties and responsibilities include:

  • Checking to see if patient information is correct

  • Operating diagnostic medical equipment

  • Ensuring that sterile operating fields are maintained

  • Protecting patients and staff via the use of safety techniques or equipment

  • Implementing life support techniques as needed

Surgical Assistant Skills

The ability to monitor, make decisions and assist the surgeon are three of the most important skills a Surgical Assistant will be expected to possess. Being a Surgical Assistant involves being able to read, comprehend and follow through with surgical orders, participate in active listening when interacting with medical staff and patients and monitor patients and the medical equipment and diagnostic devices that are related to their care. Surgical Assistants should also be to think critically. Social perception skills are also important because they allow the Surgical Assistant to understand people’s reactions and the reasoning behind them. In addition, a service-oriented mentality is important due to the patients the Surgical Assistant comes into contact with during the workday.

Other key Surgical Assistant skills include:

  • Steadiness of the arm and hand

  • Critical thinking

  • Coordination

  • Finger dexterity

How Do You Become a Surgical Assistant?

Education and Training

According to our analysis of online job postings, employers are looking for Surgical Assistant candidates who have a postsecondary certificate or an associate’s degree. Accredited programs in surgical assisting are available from various community colleges and vocational institutions. In addition, some hospitals and four-year universities offer accredited programs in this field. Typically, admission to one of these programs requires that the candidate possesses a high school diploma or the equivalent. The length of a surgical assisting programs can last from a few months up to two years. Graduates can expect a certificate, diploma or associate’s degree at the completion of their program. Candidates who have completed a certification or degree program can often more easily secure a job. Only a small number of states actually regulate surgical assistants. Surgical assistant education programs offer courses in medical terminology, biology, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and various other topics. Surgical assistants are given training related to caring for patients and keeping them safe, sterilization techniques, setting up medical equipment, and infection control protocols. Students may also work in clinical settings to gain real-world experience in the field.

Finding a job

Demand for Surgical Assistants is developing at a much faster-than-average rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 15-percent growth for the position through 2024, amounting to a total of 14,700 job openings for Intelligence Surgical Assistants during that period.

The projected job openings will be due to the fact that more operations are being completed due to an advances in the medical field that are making surgeries safer for patients. Therefore, more patients are choosing surgeries that are optional such as knee replacements. In addition, more doctors are willing to perform surgeries for illnesses and injuries that they might have otherwise declined to perform before recent medical advancements.

Due to the restructuring of federal health insurance, the number of people who have access to insurance to pay for surgical services is also a factor in more surgeries being performed. Furthermore, the sizable baby-boom generation is coming to an age where more operations are common, which will cause a need for more surgical technologists.

Every well-planned Surgical Assistant’s job search starts with crafting a high-quality resume that highlights your skills and experience. For help creating a resume, take a look at our library of Surgical Assistant’s resume samples.

Once your resume is ready, search online for Surgical Assistant job opportunities. As you search for openings, be sure to leverage your professional network, including people you worked with in the healthcare or medical fields.

When applying for Surgical Assistant positions, create a cover letter that expresses your interest in the position and highlights your qualifications and what you can bring to the role. Need some inspiration for your cover letter? Check out our collection of cover letter samples.

Insights from a Surgical Assistant

Surgical Assistants told us all about their experiences and thoughts regarding their profession. Read this insightful Q and A section for more information about being a Surgical Assistant.

What should someone consider before becoming a Surgical Assistant?

A Surgical Assistant will usually be standing up and moving most of their time on the job. Most of the time we're in closed corridor environments with temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes we may need to work 12 hours shifts and be on call. Someone one day may call in sick and you may get a call at 4 in the morning to come to work. These are things you should definitely consider especially if you have a family.

What is the common career path for a Surgical Assistant?

The most common Surgical Assistant education pathway is to enter into a two-year associate degree program in surgical technology. You can also pursue a certification program which is usually a one year program but an associate program can be a little bit more hands-on though. Now, to become a certified surgical assistant you would have to enter into a certification program from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting or the National Center for Competency Testing. These programs often offer incentives so it would be a good idea to do some research.

What type of person excels in this job?

Reliable and dedicated people with a calm nature who are ready for the unexpected and are excellent team players. People who can handle watching very graphic scenes without being squeamish.

What are some of the most important skills for Surgical Assistants have?

You need excellent dexterity, great communication skills and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations. A focused mind and quick decision-making skills are also a must in this line of work.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Surgical Assistant?

Being part of an important team of professionals dedicated to saving lives, is the most rewarding part of the job. You also get a competitive salary and a high demand job.

How Much Do Surgical Assistants Get Paid?

Surgical Assistants earn a median hourly wage in the United States of over $21.00. The lowest-paid Surgical Assistants make around $15 hourly, while the highest-paid can earn around $30 per hour.

Top 10 States for Surgical Assistant’s Salary

Surgical Assistants in the following states make the highest median hourly wage in the U.S.:





    District of Columbia






    New York










    Surgical Assistant Resources

    Need more information? We put together this list of extra resources to assist you as you continue exploring a career as a Surgical Assistant.

    On the Web

    Surgical Assistant Pathways
    Official blog of the Association of Surgical Assistants

    Surgical Assistant Resource
    Comprehensive resource for surgical assistants with articles, industry news and helpful links

    Industry Groups

    The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, which provides professional certification of surgical assistants

    National Surgical Assistant Association, which promotes national certification of surgical assistants


    Assisting at Surgical Operations: A Practical Guide
    A well-written guide for those interested in assisting in surgical operations

    Basic Surgical Techniques
    a clear, concise guide for all aspects of surgical skills

    The information in this article comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings and other online sources.