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Surgical Assistant Definitions and Titles

Surgical Assistant Definitions and Titles

When establishing the differences between surgical assistant definitions or titles, it is important to note the distinct position roles for each title. Surgical assistants are broken up between first assistant and second assistant titles. Even though they are both surgical assistants, there are clear distinctions between the roles that they play during surgical procedures. ACE Surgical Assisting defines the differences between these roles and bring light to their distinct jobs.

Role of a First Assistant vs. Second Assistant

The role of a first assistant is to provide primary assistance to the primary surgeon during a procedure. The first assistant is listed on the operative record as such, and cannot be listed as anything else. They can’t be involved in any other role during the surgical procedure, including roles fulfilled by first or second scrubs and passing instruments.

Because of this they actively participate during surgical procedures and are required to handle tasks like:

  • providing exposure
  • hemostasis
  • tying or sewing
  • other functions stated by the surgeon

However, despite being the primary assistant to surgeons in most surgical procedures, they cannot fulfill the obligations of a first assistant on simple procedures with just themselves and the surgeon. Simple procedures that are considered surgeon/scrub roles cannot be fulfilled with a surgeon/assistant role.

Second assistants are not the primary assistant to a surgeon. They are defined and designated as a retractor holder. A secondary assistant does not qualify for the role and position of a first assistant.

Being a Surgical Assistant

Whether you are a first or second assistant, there are certain qualifications that fall into both positions. The primary role of a surgical assistant, no matter what title, is to assist the surgeon in surgical procedures. Hospitals and surgical centers often refer to Non-MD surgical assistants by general terms.

These general terms include:

  • Certified first assistant
  • First surgical assistant
  • First assistant
  • Surgical assistants

Also, being certified as a surgical assistant does not allow for any independent performance of any surgical procedures within the U.S. or its territories.

If you would like to know more about surgical assistant positions or how you can enroll in receiving your surgical assistant certification, contact ACE Surgical Assisting at (888)920-0447.


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