surgical first assistant students practicing skills

Surgical First Assistant Certificate

Surgical first assistants are essential teammates in an operating room. They act as the surgeon's second pair of hands and eyes as they perform tasks from preparing the room for surgery to assisting with the procedure. At San Juan College, our online Surgical First Assistant Certificate program will train you to be a meticulous and levelheaded worker who is confident in your skills and knowledge.

Why Study to Be a Surgical First Assistant?

As a surgical first assistant, you will learn how to provide hands-on support to surgeons in operating rooms. Study how to create optimal results for the patient through your knowledge of hemostasis, exposure, closure, and other technical functions. Develop the skills you need to perform preoperative and postoperative duties for proper patient care.

Why Earn a Surgical First Assistant Certificate at San Juan College?

Fast and Online

You can complete our surgical first assistant program at San Juan College in one year. In addition, the program's courses are taken entirely online, so you can log in from anywhere. With this flexibility, you can continue working while advancing your career through the program.

Affordable Option

Our certificate program combines excellent training at an affordable cost. For in-state residents, the cost of the program is $5,205. You may also qualify for your certificate tuition-free through the NM Opportunity and Lottery Scholarships.

CAAHEP Accredited

We are the only surgical assistant program in the Southwest that is offered online and is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Our graduates are eligible to sit for national certification examinations through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) or the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants (NCCSA).

What You'll Learn

Through your courses at SJC, you will learn about operating room fundamentals, including aseptic principles and techniques and surgical care.

You will also: 

  • Study advanced anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, and microbiology; 
  • Understand the ethical, legal, moral, and medical values related to the patient and the operating room team;
  • Understand the use of medications and anesthetic agents; 
  • Demonstrate safe practice techniques in regard to perioperative routines, patient positioning, exposure of the surgical field, hemostasis, and emergency procedures;
  • Demonstrate and integrate principles of surgical asepsis as part of the perioperative experience and
  • Apply knowledge and skills as a professional surgical assistant to address the biopsychosocial needs of the surgical patient.

As part of your program, you will watch online lectures. Those sessions will be paired with hands-on lab training at approved healthcare facilities near your home. In addition, you will assist in 140 surgical procedures.

When you complete the program, you will be ready to be a successful entry-level surgical first assistant with the appropriate knowledge, skills, and professional behavior. 

Surgical First Assistant Certificate Curriculum

Careers and Outcomes

According to Occupational Information Network (O*NET), the average annual base salary for a surgical first assistant in New Mexico is $51,000. Top earners earn $94,000 or more.

Our graduates go on to work for:

  • Hospitals and ambulatory care centers
  • Outpatient or ambulatory surgery centers

In addition, our graduates have the opportunity to:

  • Own or join a business assisting surgeons in surgery
  • Apply for travel assignments throughout the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii

"I learned what a first assist does and how to start my own LLC. Not only am I a surgical first assistant now, but I am a female Latina veteran with a small business."

Amalia Gutierrez, '20

Program Admission Requirements and Selection

Admission to the surgical first assistant program is selective. The following criteria are used in the selection process:

  • Be a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST), (TS-C), or (CORST), Nurse-Operating Room (CNOR), or Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C) with certification currency and two years full-time experience or 4,500 clinical hours in the last three years, OR 
  • Be a graduate from a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited surgical technology program, nursing, or physician assistant program with an associate of applied science degree or higher.

You must schedule a meeting with Program Director Lydell Powell for an advising session at or (505) 566-3856. It is required that an applicant attend an advising session before admission to the program. Your admission packet will be explained during the advising session. A completed program packet must be submitted by mid-July of each year. 


Our students take the National Board of Surgical Technology and the Surgical Assisting and Surgical First Assistant Examination. You'll become dually certified as a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) and Certified Surgical First Assistant (CSFA). These accredited certifications are recognized nationally through the CAAHEP and ARC/STSA.

Below is San Juan College's Outcomes Assessment Exam (OAE) pass rate for the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) exam from our most recently submitted annual report.

SFA Grads


Certification Pass

NBSTSA National Avg.




Not reported




Not reported


Next Steps

Set up an appointment with Program Director Lydell Powell to conduct a review of your eligibility for the program. Contact him at (505) 566-3856 or at

To enroll in the Surgical First Assistant Certificate program, you must first apply to San Juan College. It's easy, and you can apply online at any time! Be prepared to send all official transcripts to San Juan College Admissions. 

Apply Now

After submitting your application to San Juan College, fill out the Surgical First Assistant application. Please remember you must attend an advising appointment before applying.

Complete the Surgical First Assistant Application

Phone: (505) 566-3320

West Classroom Complex,
Room 1911

M-F 8 a.m - 5 p.m

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