Surgical Assistant  What They Do

Just the Facts


Assists surgeons during surgery by performing duties such as tissue retraction, insertion of tubes and intravenous lines, or closure of surgical wounds. Performs preoperative and postoperative duties to facilitate patient care.

This career is part of the Health Science cluster Diagnostic Services pathway.


A person in this career:

  • Verifies the identity of patient or operative site.
  • Monitors and maintains aseptic technique throughout procedures.
  • Coordinates or participates in the positioning of patients, using body stabilizing equipment or protective padding to provide appropriate exposure for the procedure or to protect against nerve damage or circulation impairment.
  • Covers patients with surgical drapes to create and maintain a sterile operative field.
  • Maintains an unobstructed operative field, using surgical retractors, sponges, or suctioning and irrigating equipment.
  • Applies sutures, staples, clips, or other materials to close skin, facia, or subcutaneous wound layers.
  • Prepares and applies sterile wound dressings.
  • Discusses with surgeon the nature of the surgical procedure, including operative consent, methods of operative exposure, diagnostic or laboratory data, or patient-advanced directives or other needs.
  • Determines availability of necessary equipment or supplies for operative procedures.
  • Clamps, ligates, or cauterizes blood vessels to control bleeding during surgical entry, using hemostatic clamps, suture ligatures, or electrocautery equipment.

Related Careers


Working Conditions and Physical Demands

People who do this job report that:

  • You would often handle loads up to 10 lbs., sometimes up to 20 lbs. You might do a lot of walking or standing, or you might sit but use your arms and legs to control machines, equipment or tools.
  • Work in this occupation involves bending or twisting your body more than one-third of the time
  • Work in this occupation involves use of protective items such as safety shoes, glasses, gloves, hearing protection, a hard hat, or personal flotation devices
  • Exposure to pollutants, gases, dust, fumes, odors, poor ventilation, etc.
  • Requires getting into awkward positions
  • Exposed to disease and infections more than once a month through work such as patient care, laboratory work, and sanitation control
  • Lighting is either extremely bright or inadequate
  • Work in this occupation involves using your hands to hold, control, and feel objects more than one-third of the time
  • Exposed to conditions such as high voltage electricity, combustibles, explosives, and chemicals more than once a month
  • Exposed to hazardous equipment such as saws, machinery, or vehicular traffic more than once a month
  • Work in this occupation requires being inside most of the time
  • Sound and noise levels are loud and distracting
  • Exposed to radiation more than once a month
  • Work in this occupation involves making repetitive motions more than one-third of the time
  • Work in this occupation involves use of special protective items such as a breathing apparatus, safety harness, full protection suit, or radiation protection
  • Work in this occupation involves standing more than one-third of the time
  • Work in this occupation involves walking or running more than one-third of the time

Working in this career involves (physical activities):

  • Picking out a particular sound in the presence of other sounds
  • Identifying color and seeing differences in color, including shades and brightness
  • Seeing clearly at a distance
  • Detecting sounds and hearing the differences between sounds of different pitch and loudness
  • Seeing clearly up close
  • Speaking clearly enough to be able to be understood by others
  • Identifying and understanding the speech of another person
  • Lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying objects
  • Using abdominal and lower back muscles repeatedly or over time without tiring

Work Hours and Travel

  • Rotating shift work
  • Weekend work

Specialty and Similar Careers

Careers that are more detailed or close to this career:

  • Certified First Assistant (CFA) --
  • Certified Registered Nurse First Assistant (CRNFA) --
  • Certified Surgical Assistant (CSA) --
  • Certified Surgical First Assistant (CSFA) --
  • Certified Surgical Technician --
  • Gastrointestinal Technician (GI Technician) --
  • Registered Nurse First Assistant (RNFA) --
  • Surgical First Assistant --
  • Surgical Scrub Technician (Surgical Scrub Tech) --
  • Surgical Technician (Surgical Tech) --