ACS & AMA Policies

American College of Surgeons (ACS)Statement on Principles (excerpted), relating to Surgical Assistants; Click Here for Full Text

Section G. Surgical Assistants

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 (SA’s) or physician’s assistants (PA’s) 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.

American Medical Association (AMA)Policy, H475.986 (full statement), Surgical Assistants other than Licensed Physicians

The AMA: (1) affirms that only licensed physicians with appropriate education, training, experience and demonstrated current competence should perform surgical procedures;

(2) recognizes that the responsible surgeon may delegate the performance of part of a given operation to surgical assistants, provided the surgeon is an active participant throughout the essential part of the operation. Given the nature of the surgical assistant’s role and the potential of risk to the public, it is appropriate to ensure that qualified personnel accomplish this function;

(3) policy related to surgical assistants, consistent with the American College of Surgeons’ Statements on Principles states: (a) The surgical assistant is limited to performing specific functions as defined in the medical staff bylaws, rules and regulations. These generally include the following tasks: aid in maintaining adequate exposure in the operating field, cutting suture materials, clamping and ligating bleeding vessels, and, in selected instances, actually performing designated parts of a procedure. (b) It is the surgeon’s responsibility to designate the individual most appropriate for this purpose within the bylaws of the medical staff. The first assistant to the surgeon during a surgical operation should be a credentialed health care professional, preferably a physician, who is capable of participating in the operation, actively assisting the surgeon. (c) Practice privileges of individuals acting as surgical assistants should be based upon verified credentials and the supervising physician’s capability and competence to supervise such an assistant. Such privileges should be reviewed and approved by the institution’s medical staff credentialing committee and should be within the defined limits of state law. Specifically, surgical assistants must make formal application to the institution’s medical staff to function as a surgical assistant under a surgeon’s supervision. During the credentialing and privileging of surgical assistants, the medical staff will review and make decisions on the individual’s qualifications, experience, credentials, licensure, liability coverage and current competence. (d) If a complex surgical procedure requires that the assistant have the skills of a surgeon, the surgical assistant must be a licensed surgeon fully qualified in the specialty area. If a complication requires the skills of a specialty surgeon, or the surgical first assistant is expected to take over the surgery, the surgical first assistant must be a licensed surgeon fully qualified in the specialty area. (e) Ideally, the first assistant to the surgeon at the operating table should be a qualified surgeon or resident in an education program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and/or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). Other appropriately credentialed physicians who are experienced in assisting the responsible surgeon may participate when a trained surgeon or a resident in an accredited program is not available. The AMA recognizes that attainment of this ideal in all surgical care settings may not be practicable. In some circumstances it is necessary to utilize appropriately trained and credentialed unlicensed physicians and non-physicians to serve as first assistants to qualified surgeons (emphasis added). (BOT Rep. 32, A-99; Reaffirmed: Res. 240, 708, and Reaffirmation A-00)

We acknowledge that the role and function of a surgical assistant is to assist the surgeon, in the performance of a surgical procedure. It is understood and acknowledged that certification as a surgical assistant through the ABSA (SA-C) does not allow for any independent performance of any medical or surgical procedures, within the United States of America or its territories.