Surgical Assistant vs Surgical Technician: What is the difference?

Learn about the difference between a surgical assistant vs surgical technician such as job duties, education requirements, certification and careers.
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Surgical Technician Career Facts

Surgical Assistant vs Surgical Technician

Working in the operating room during a surgery can be a valuable and exciting way to be part of patients’ care and treatment. Fortunately, you do not have to go to medical school to be part of a medical surgical team. One path to working in this field is either as a surgical assistant or surgical technician also called a surgical technologist.

Though some use these titles interchangeably, each has different requirements for certification and functions in the operating room. For example, some surgical technicians begin their training on the job with no formal educational background where a surgical technologist earns a degree before working.

This page will go over the different educational requirements as well as the varying job duties between surgical assistants vs surgical technicians.

What is a surgical assistant?

Surgical First Assistants are sometimes called the “First Assist” or “First Assistants” but most commonly referred to as Surgical Assistants.

Surgical Assistants work with other medical professionals on a surgical team in the operating room, including working directly with the patient during the procedure. During surgical procedures, some of the duties of a surgical assistant include:

  • Suctioning and sponging
  • Suturing
  • Treating wounds
  • Staunching bleeding (hemostasis)
  • Holding retractors
  • Assisting with positioning patients
  • Placing the pneumatic tourniquet
  • Placing the urinary catheter
  • Prepping of the operating table and surgical room
  • Draping the patient according to guidelines

While some surgical assistants begin as surgical technologists before earning their certificates, others begin with the surgical assisting certification program without prior background in the field. The two types of certification for surgical assistants are CFA (Certified First Assistant) or CSA (Certified Surgical Assistant).

The CSA is offered by The National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants (NCCSA).

The CFA is offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA).

You must complete an accredited surgical assisting program to be eligible to take either of the certifying exams

What is a surgical technician or technologist?

Surgical technicians, or technologists, are also part of the medical team related to surgical procedures. However, their role is not the same during operations. Some of the duties of a surgical technologist include:

  • Preparation of operating rooms prior to procedures, including setting up equipment and instruments
  • Maintenance of sterile conditions
  • Monitoring patients during surgery
  • Monitoring equipment during surgery
  • Preparing and transporting patients to and from the operating room before and after procedures

Surgical technologists must go through an education program from an accredited institution, which allows them to sit for the certification exam. The two types of certification available for surgical technologists are the CST (Certified Surgical Technologist) or TS-C (Tech in Surgery-Certified). Once certified, many surgical technologists continue their education in order to seek certification as a surgical assistant.

When you are interested in working on a medical surgical team, there are many paths to this career. Surgical assistants and surgical technologists are two separate positions with unique functions in the operating room. Understanding the difference between these two positions can help you determine the best career path for you.

surgical technicians prepare the operating room for surgery

Surgical Technologist Salaries & Job Growth

Surgical technicians and technologists earn a high salary of $47,300 per year as the median according to the BLS.
Quick Facts: Surgical Technologists
2018 Median Pay$47,300 per year
$22.74 per hour
Typical Entry-Level EducationPostsecondary nondegree award
Work Experience in a Related OccupationNone
On-the-job TrainingNone
Number of Jobs, 2018112,100
Job Outlook, 2018-289% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2018-289,700

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