Surgeon's assistant

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The surgeon's assistant or surgical assistant performs a specialized role, as part of the team of Professional healthcare providers that performs surgical procedures. The role may be carried out by a Doctor of Medicine or an allied health professional trained in surgery who may be expected to have undergone rigorous credentialing. Surgeon's assistant meet stringent surgical educational criteria, certification, registration and licensure requirements to be a practitioner as a surgeon's assistant. The professionals practicing as a surgeon's assistant varies internationally and each country has legal requirements for the scope of practice for the surgeon's assistant. Surgical Assistance is the clinical specialty of a surgeon's assistant in clinical practice in the United States and internationally.

Professional framework[edit]

The origins of surgeon's assistant can be traced back to the nineteenth and twentieth century. In the Navy a Surgeon's Mate was historically the individual providing surgical assistant duties during the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century the origins of the surgeon's assistant role in the United States can be traced back to the specialized surgical teams assembled by Michael E. DeBakey during World War II.

In the United States the surgeon's assistant is known as a surgical assistant, assistant surgeon and assistants-at-surgery. The surgical assistant, assistant surgeon and assistants-at-surgery, who serve as a member of the surgical team, perform tasks under the direction of surgeons and aid them in conducting surgery. The scope of practice of these tasks may include making initial incisions ("opening"), exposing the surgical site ("retracting"), stemming blood flow ("hemostasis"), surgically removing veins and arteries to be used as bypass grafts ("harvesting"), reconnecting tissue ("suturing"), and completing the operation and reconnecting external tissue ("closing"). Some of these tasks, like retraction, are relatively simple, while others, such as harvesting, are more complex. An assistant-at-surgery may perform one or more simple or complex tasks during an operation. Members of a wide range of health professions serve as assistants-at-surgery, including physician, residents in training for licensure or board certification in a physician specialty, several different kinds of nurses, and members of several other health professions. For purposes of this report, international medical graduates do not include individuals who are in U.S. residency programs or who are physicians licensed in the United States, but may include some who are certified as surgical assistants. International medical graduates are physicians who have graduated from a medical school outside the United States, Puerto Rico, or Canada. In the United States since 1994, the American College of Surgeons, with other surgical specialty organizations, has conducted studies to determine which surgical procedures require physicians as assistants-at-surgery. These studies classify surgical procedures as "almost always," "sometimes," or "almost never" requiring an assistant-at-surgery. The 2002 study classifies approximately 5,000 surgical procedures, about 1,750 of which are designated as "almost always" requiring a physician to serve as an assistant-at-surgery. [1]

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons states that the specific role of a surgical assistant may be primarily: to act as a facilitator, to act as a facilitator and co-worker and to act as a facilitator and a consultant to the surgeon.[2] In Australia like in many countries the Surgeon's Assistant role is carried out by a Doctor of Medicine or an allied health professional like a Perioperative Nurse Surgical Assistant.[3] The Royal College of Surgeons in England has created a curriculum framework for the education and training of Surgical Care Practitioner whom are health professionals working as surgeon's assistants in England.[4]


In the United States the American Medical Association and the American College of Surgeons have policy statements on the role and qualifications of surgeon's assistant.[5][6]


Hospitals employ residents, international medical graduates, and all the types of nonphysician health professionals who act as Surgeon's assistants. Hospital employees likely serve as assistants-at-surgery for a majority of the procedures for which the ACS says an assistant is "almost always" necessary. [7]

Most surgeon's assistants are employed by hospitals; however, a growing number are employed by physician groups, private SFA practices, medical travel agencies, or are self-employed.[8][9] According to the National Surgical Assistant Association (NSAA), the average annual salary for the non-physician surgical first assistant in 2005 ranged from $50,000 (entry level) to $150,000 annually for full-time practitioners, with top wages reaching $200,000 yearly. The American Medical Association lists the average as $75,000 yearly.[8][10]


In the United States, physicians both US graduates in surgical residency programs and international medical graduates, surgeons, physician assistants, registered nurse first assistants and surgical assistants may all be credentialed to practice as surgeon's assistant. International medical graduates in the US that are licensed, registered or certified as surgical assistants are credentialed as surgical assistants with a scope of practice limited exclusively to surgical assistance in the operating room as surgical assistants and are not credentialed to practice medicine. International medical graduates must hold a Medical Doctor Degree listed in the World Directory of Medical Schools,[11] have surgical training and hold a nationally recognized surgical assistant certificate, registration or licensure as surgical assistant. Physician assistants that have graduated can specialize in surgery by completing a PA surgical residency program[12] to specialize as surgical physician assistants.[13] Nursing graduates filling the role of surgeon's assistant must have completed the registered nurse first assistant program and be certified as CRNFAs.[14] For surgical assistants with an associate degree they can complete a CAAHEP program to sit for a nationally recognized surgical assistant examination. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) has established and published guidelines for surgical assistants who want to be certified by completing a certified educational program. Programs which meet these criteria are able to be reviewed and obtain accreditation through CAAHEP. Currently, there are several schools in the United States which offer CAAHEP accredited surgical first assistant training programs. Additional programs are approved by the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants (NCCSA) and the American Board of Surgical Assistants (ABSA). NCCSA recognizes all Surgical Assistant Programs accredited by CAAHEP and ABHES that have completed the NCCSA Program Approval Process. These programs typically last between 12 and 24 months and lead to a Certificate of Completion or Associate of Science degree.[15] There is one Master level educational programs for surgical assistants at East Virginia Medical School.

In the United States regulation of surgeon's assistant is done through licensure, certification, or registration. Each of these regulations have different levels of educational and professional experience requirements.

In the United States and internationally surgeons also work as surgeon's assistant in addition to their surgical practices and are credentialed by the medical staff office. In the United States all surgeon's assistant are credentialed through the allied health professional office as Surgical PA's, RNFA's, NP's and Surgical Assistants (SA). Surgical assistants are certified nationally by the American Board of Surgical Assistants (ABSA), the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA), and the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants (NCCSA). Some states, such as Kentucky, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, and Washington DC have additional state registration and licensure requirements. When deciding which professional certification, registration or licensure to pursue, the surgical assistant practitioner should consider local legislation, facility policy, and regional practice as some credentials are preferred over others in different parts of the United States. Additionally, local laws and hospital policies may favor or require a specific credential to practice as a surgeon's assistant.

In the United States there are two states that license surgical assistants which are: District of Columbia and Texas. In the District of Columbia there is also a licensure requirement for surgical assistants.[16] The Texas Medical Board regulates licensure for surgical assistants in Texas. The Texas Medical Board grants licensure to become licensed surgical assistants (LSAs) once the following requirements have been met:

  • Minimum education of an Associate's Degree from a 2 or 4-year institution or greater:
  • One of the four educational pathways below:
  1. Graduation from a CAAHEP accredited Surgical Assisting educational program[17]
  2. Registered Nurse First Assisting program[14]
  3. Surgical Physician Assistant Program [12][18]
  4. Full Medical School (and receipt of a Physician's Degree).
  • Worked 2000 hours within the last 3 years as a Surgical Assistant.
  • Taken and passed one of the three national certifying exams.
  • Have a current national Board Certification.
  • Have never been convicted of a felony or crime of moral turpitude.
  • 100% honest and forthcoming on the application.

The surgeon's assistant is a critically important surgical team member in the majority of surgery performed in the United States and internationally. Patients undergoing surgery should be aware of the surgeon and surgeon's assistant who will be performing their surgical procedure. Surgeon's assistants work as surgical practitioners in surgical procedures which are team-based, role-specific and outcomes driven encounters.

In surgery team work is essential in the operating room and the team members are made up of surgeon, surgeon's assistant, anesthesia provider, circulator nurse and surgical technologist. The surgeon and surgeon's assistant are the team members performing surgery on the patient.

Teamwork is important in that it allows others to do the work of the surgeon so that the surgeon can focus on the indication for intervention, the procedure or operation, and preventing or managing complications. Most patients are satisfied with team care as long as the surgeon explains the concept and ensures trust in the team members by communicating that to the patient.[19]


  1. ^ One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication in the public domain: "Medicare: Payment Changes are Needed for Assistants-at-Surgery. Report to Congressional Committees. GAO-04-97.". U.S. General Accounting Office. (Not copyrighted). Retrieved 25 October 2014. 
  2. ^ "Position paper: surgical assistant". Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. October 2006. Retrieved 20 December 2014. 
  3. ^ "Position Description- Perioperative Nurse Surgical Assistant". Australian Association of Nurse Surgical Assistants. 2012. Retrieved 20 December 2014. 
  4. ^ "The Curriculum Framework for the Surgical Care Practitioner: February 2014". Royal College of Surgeons of England. February 2014. Retrieved 20 December 2014. 
  5. ^ American Medical Association (AMA) - Policy, H475.986 (full statement), Surgical Assistants other than Licensed Physicians
  6. ^ American College of Surgeons (ACS) – Statement on Principles (excerpted), relating to Surgical Assistants
  7. ^ One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication in the public domain: "Medicare: Payment Changes are Needed for Assistants-at-Surgery. Report to Congressional Committees. GAO-04-97.". U.S. General Accounting Office. (Not copyrighted). Retrieved 25 October 2014.
  8. ^ a b "Allied Health: Surgical Assistant". American Medical Association. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  9. ^ "Surgical Assisting". Association of Surgical Assistants. Retrieved June 5, 2011. 
  10. ^ "NSAA Salary Survey Letter". National Surgical Assistant Association. Retrieved June 5, 2011. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b "First Assisting (RNFA)". Association of periOperative Registered Nurses. Retrieved 20 December 2014. 
  15. ^ "Surgical Assistant Programs". Surgical Assistant Resource. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Surgical Assisting". Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Retrieved 20 December 2014. 
  18. ^ Surgical Physician Assistant program
  19. ^ "The Evolution of Surgery The Story of 'Two Poems'". Journal of the American Medical Association. Retrieved 25 October 2014. 

Links to US surgical assistant certification requirements[edit]

  • American Board Surgical Assistants (ABSA) grants the Surgical Assistant-Certified (SA-C) credential to candidates who meet these criteria:[1]
  • NBSTSA is the only professional credential accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) and grants the Certified Surgical First Assistant (CSFA, formally CFA) credential to candidates who meet these criteria:[2]
  • National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants (NCCSA) is the credentialing body that awards the CSA certification. National Surgical Assistant Association (NSAA) is their membership organization for Certified Surgical Assistant (CSA).[3]

External links[edit]

Surgical PA

Surgical Assistants Analysis

Eastern Virginia Medical School

Surgical Assistant Billing Practices

American College of Surgeons

Journal American Medical Association

Royal Australian College of Surgeons

Australian Association of Medical Surgical Assistants

Royal College of Surgeons in England