Surgical Assisting

Qualifications and Credentials of the First Assistant

The first assistant during a surgical operation should be a trained individual who is able to participate in and actively assist the surgeon in completing the operation safely and expeditiously by helping to provide exposure, maintain hemostasis, and serve other technical functions. The qualifications of the person in this role may vary with the nature of the operation, the surgical specialty, and the type of hospital or ambulatory surgical facility.

The American College of Surgeons supports the concept that, ideally, the first assistant at the operating table should be a qualified surgeon or a resident in an approved surgical education program. Residents at appropriate levels of training should be provided with opportunities to assist and participate in operations. If such assistants are not available, other physicians who are experienced in assisting may participate.

It may be necessary to utilize nonphysicians as first assistants. Surgeon’s Assistants (SAs) or physician’s assistants (PAs) with additional surgical training should meet national standards and be credentialed by the appropriate local authority. These individuals are not authorized to operate independently. Formal application for appointment to a hospital as a PA or SA should include:

Qualifications and Credentials of Assistants

  • Specification of which surgeon the applicant will assist and what duties will be performed.
  • Indication of which surgeon will be responsible for the supervision and performance of the SA or PA.
  • The application should be reviewed and approved by the hospital’s board.
  • Registered nurses with specialized training may also function as first assistants. If such a situation should occur, the size of the operating room team should not be reduced; the nurse assistant should not simultaneously function as the scrub nurse and instrument nurse when serving as the first assistant. Nurse assistant practice privileges should be granted based upon the hospital board’s review and approval of credentials. Registered nurses who act as first assistants must not have responsibility beyond the level defined in their state nursing practice act.

Surgeons are encouraged to participate in the training of allied health personnel. Such individuals perform their duties under the supervision of the surgeon.

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