How to Become a First Assistant Certified Surgical Tech

Updated February 21, 2017

A certified surgical technologist first assistant, often called a surgical assistant, is a surgical tech with advanced training and certification. Certified surgical tech first assistants provide direct assistance to operating physicians during surgical procedures. First assistant job duties include clamping bleeding vessels, sewing and tying sutures, maintaining adequate exposure in the operating filed and preventing haemorrhage.

Apply to an accredited surgical technologist training program. Find an educational program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Surgical tech programs are offered at many community colleges, technical institutes, universities and vocational schools.

Complete your surgical technologist training. Surgical tech educational programs vary in length from 9 months to 2 years and lead to a certificate or an associate's degree. They include courses in human anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, patient care, microbiology and pharmacology. You also receive hands-on training in surgical procedures, sterilisation techniques, equipment handling and infection control during your supervised clinical practice.

Become a certified surgical technologist (CST). After completing your surgical tech training program, register to sit for the national certification exam administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). The NBSTSA website offers a variety of study materials and information on how to apply for the certification exam (see Resources). After passing this multiple-choice exam, you will be a certified surgical technologist.

Complete a first assistant training program. A surgical assistant educational program is usually 1 to 2 years in length and should be accredited by CAAHEP. You will gain hands-on experience in knot tying and suturing techniques, tissue handling, controlling blood flow, and identifying any potential surgical hazards. Surgical assisting training programs typically require students to earn about 180 hours of clinical experience performing first assistant duties in an operating room.

Pass the surgical first assistant certification exam. The NBSTSA offers a national certification exam for individuals who have graduated from accredited first assistant training programs. Once you have passed this exam, check with your state's board of health to determine whether you need to file any additional paperwork to receive your license.

Renew your surgical tech first assistant certification every 4 years by retaking the certification exam or by submitting proof that you have attended continuing education courses.


Verify the accreditation status of any surgical technologist or surgical assisting training program. If you graduate from a nonaccredited program, you will not be eligible to become certified or licensed.

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