• Surgical Tech to First Assistant In As Little As 6 Months!

How To Become A Self-Employed Surgical Assistant: SE Series Part 1 - Possibilities and Opportunities

How To Become A Self-Employed Surgical Assistant: SE Series Part 1 - Possibilities and Opportunities

By Dan Bump SA-C, CSFA: Surgical Assisting has been a real blessing to me personally. You see, I love surgery. It’s not just a paycheck to me and I know you feel the same. My story isn’t all that unique. But it definitely highlights the possibilities and opportunities for current and future Surgical Assistants. What do you want out of your surgical career:

  • Get closer to the surgical action?
  • Make a six figure income?
  • Gain recognition for your accomplishments?
  • Advance your career?
  • Make greater contributions to patient outcomes?
  • Increased status?
  • A closer working relationship with your surgeons?
  • The respect of your surgeons and peers?

Whatever it is, becoming a freelance Surgical Assistant makes all these benefits deliverable! I’m going to tell you how I became a freelance assistant. And in this series of blog posts, I’m going to give you everything you need to do it yourself, if that’s what you want. If not, this series will help you be the very best Surgical Assistant you can be and advance your career no matter whether you are working for a surgeon, a hospital, a surgicenter, an agency, or yourself.

After 14 years behind the Mayo Stand as a Surgical Technologist, I attended an AST convention in Florida that changed everything for me. A man named Al Sanchez was there giving a presentation to our group on Surgical Assisting. The things he was saying! It was all so new to me and yet ‘strangely familiar.’ Even the name, ‘Surgical Assistant’ was not well known in the late 1980’s. For those of you who know me, you may have a hard time believing what I’m going to say next. I have been very timid and shy for most of my life. I’ve had to get beyond it because of having to promote my business and the public speaking I’ve done has had its effect. Also, my wife is a very outgoing person and my relationship with her has helped me get out of my shell. Thanks Ramona!

Why am I fessing up? I’d be the last person you’d ever think would boldly go up to the lectern after a speech to ask the speaker some follow up questions. Way too shy for that. The speaker owned a Surgical Assisting Agency in Denver, Colorado and he had just finished educating us on what was going on with assisting in Denver and about this flourishing new industry called Surgical Assisting.

Why ‘strangely familiar?’ It was obvious to me that Al had already accomplished what I was currently pioneering as though it was something completely new in the industry. Could he possibly have a template I could use and not have to recreate the wheel? Back home in Connecticut, I was getting ready to open what I thought was the first surgical assisting business. The ophthalmologists I was working with were having to make do without a first assistant. Actually, I was doing both the job of the Surgical Tech and the Surgical Assistant on each case. This is very common in this industry as you know but the American College of Surgeons’ official statement was flatly against performing two roles in surgery at the same time. This made me think a huge opportunity was waiting to be developed.

When I introduced the idea of providing freelance surgical assisting services to my surgeons (code words for any surgeon who wanted to work with me enough to request me for their surgeries), to say they were interested would have been a monumental understatement. However, the most exciting point of my offer (in my mind anyway) turned out to be the main sticking point. There has got to be a seminal business lesson to be learned in there somewhere. Here’s the point: I was going to provide this service FOR FREE. I’d just charge the patient… Bam! Blank stares; no shouts of joy. Instead, my surgeons thought this extra charge for the assistant would put them at a competitive disadvantage. No other eye surgeons in the area were charging this extra fee.

Well, to this day I’m not sure I agree with them. Once you find someone you’re comfortable enough with to let them work on your eyes, it’s difficult to believe you’d go somewhere else to save a couple of hundred bucks. But perception is reality. Since I’d been diligent at laying a solid groundwork for future opportunities with relationship building and doing the very best work in surgery, they could see crystal clear how their work environment would be improved. So they countered, “Why don’t you just let us pay you?” Let you... Let you! Twist my arm a little why don’t you.

So here’s what we worked out. Back then as a Surgical Tech, I had to work 50 or 60 hours a week and take everybody’s call just to make $35,000 a year. My surgeons agreed to pay me by the case not by the hour. As it turned out, I would be making that same $35,000 but only have to work 2 days a week! I was feeling rather good about my business acumen as you can imagine. Such was my state of mind when I attended that landmark AST conference.

It struck me that the speaker had already gone through everything I was going through and came out on the successful end of it, with even more success than I had envisioned. I thought I was alone in starting a surgical assisting business but he was first and he was taking it to the next level. Now, here are two more things I would say were the icing on the cake for me. 1) His agency was multispecialty - not just eyes; and 2) he was third party billing the patients’ health insurance. Needless to say I was hooked. So much so that it simply overpowered my bad case of shyness and I just had to introduce myself and bleed him of every little secret he could share with me (‘bleed’ being a surgical term).

It wasn’t long before I moved my wife and children to Denver and joined Al’s group, Colorado Surgical Assisting. Now I’m going to give you some takeaways and a preview of future blogs that will help you determine if starting your own surgical assisting business is for you or not and how you would go about doing it. I’m going to literally give you the template over a series of blog posts so you can get off to a great start and avoid some rather common but painful mistakes people make.

How did Denver turn out? I didn’t have to work 50 to 60 hours a week and take everybody’s call just to make $35,000. And I didn’t work two days a week to make $35,000. But here’s what I did do. I made $105,000 only working 20 hours a week! You can double that using my example by working 40 hours. I’ve trained thousands of people since then and many of them have made more money than I did. Some have made as much as 3 to 4 hundred thousand dollars. An exceptional few have made in the high six figures. All of them started by getting the best possible training available and following the business strategies, tactics, and principles I laid out for them. But I got something else that was even more important and more exciting to me. Compared to this, you may also find money to be a secondary benefit.

Al had a training program he put us through before he sent us out to assist in surgery. There weren’t any formal training programs back then – I started the very first one in the country for working surgical professionals. Al’s was more like an apprenticeship-type program just for people who came to work with him. It was so good, however, that we were able to perform in surgery as Surgical Assistants just as though we were seasoned, not as though we were new. The results? Most of the surgeons I worked with treated me less like a subordinate and more like a trusted partner. Many of them wanted me to do parts, if not up to half of the surgical procedure myself. And I was more than capable because of the valuable training I received.

Wow! I never thought I’d be able to do any such thing unless I went to medical school. This was my dream job come true. Today I’m at a point in my life where I want to do everything within my power to assure that you get the same opportunity I did. To that point, I’m going to be uploading a series of blogs, one post a week starting next week, designed to teach you everything I know about preparing for, starting, and running a highly successful surgical assisting business, earning the trust of your surgeons, and making pretty much as much money as you desire. You name the number.

If you have questions or comments, be sure to post them. You’ll make this an even better educational and inspirational process. And from time to time, maybe you’ll get to read a post from a guest blogger who has exceptional expertise in a particular subject or whose story will enlighten and inspire you. Stay tuned and my best wishes to you and a bright and successful future!

Are you interested in becoming a Surgical Assistant? Contact ACE Surgical Assisting today to request more information and to learn more about advancing your career.

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