How to Become a Surgical Assistant or Technologist About this section
Surgical assistants and technologists work as members of a healthcare team alongside physicians and surgeons, registered nurses, and other healthcare workers.
Surgical assistants and technologists typically need a certificate or an associate’s degree. Employers may require or prefer that workers have certification. Some states regulate these workers.
Surgical assistants and technologists typically need a certificate or associate’s degree from an accredited program. Many community colleges and vocational schools, as well as some universities and hospitals, offer accredited surgical technology or surgical assisting programs.
Surgical assistants may complete a formal education program in surgical assisting. Others may work as surgical technologists and receive additional on-the-job training to become first assistants.
Surgical technology education includes courses such as anatomy, microbiology, and physiology. These workers also learn about the care and safety of patients, sterilization techniques, how to set up technical or robotic equipment, and preventing and controlling infections. In addition to classroom study, students gain hands-on experience in supervised clinical settings.
The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredits programs in surgical technology and surgical assisting.
Communication. To prevent infections or other complications, surgical assistants and technologists must relay any issues that arise during surgery to the other members of the healthcare team.
Detail oriented. Surgical assistants and technologists must pay close attention to their work. For example, surgical technologists need to provide the correct sterile equipment for surgeons during an operation.
Dexterity. Surgical assistants and technologists should be comfortable working with their hands. They must provide needed equipment quickly.
Integrity. Because they are trusted to help during surgical procedures, surgical assistants and technologists must be ethical and honest.
Listening skills. Responding to requests from surgeons and others on the surgical team requires the ability to listen to and understand spoken directions.
Physical stamina. Surgical assistants and technologists should be comfortable standing for extended periods.
Stress-management skills. Working in an operating room can be stressful. Surgical assistants and technologists should work well under pressure.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Certification may be beneficial for finding a job, and some employers may require it. Surgical assistants and technologists may earn certification through credentialing organizations.
For example, certification through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting allows the use of the title “Certified Surgical Technologist (CST).” Certification typically requires completing an accredited formal education program or military training program and passing an exam.
Certification through the National Center for Competency Testing allows the use of the title “Tech in Surgery – Certified or TS-C (NCCT).” Applicants may qualify through formal education, military training, or work experience. All require documenting critical skills and passing an exam.
The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants, and the American Board of Surgical Assistants offer certification for surgical assistants.
In addition, many jobs require that surgical assistants and technologists become certified in CPR or basic life support (BLS), or both.
Some states have regulations governing the work of surgical assistants and technologists. For more information, contact your state licensing agency.
Surgical assistants and technologists may choose to advance to other healthcare occupations, such as registered nurse. Advancement to other healthcare occupations usually requires additional education, training, and/or certifications or licenses. A technologist may also choose to become a postsecondary teacher of health specialties.