By Libby McNaron


The future of the professions of surgical technology and surgical first assisting needs our support. In light of an upcoming surgeon shortage, it is important to produce professionals who are armed with knowledge that will allow them to step up when needed. The question is, how can we make it a learning process that meets the strenuous needs of both professions providing opportunities for growth and maturity?

The answer? Just remain true to the key teaching principles: Skill progression from simple to complex, mastering each along the way and repetition, repetition, repetition. Or, in surgical first assisting language, exposure, exposure, exposure to key content.

When we first started our project, we had very different ideas regarding what we needed to do to ensure effectiveness for a dual program. We learned from our experiences making changes in the overall curriculum, and now have a program that is strong, cost effective and successful at producing graduates who are clearly well-prepared and can provide high-quality patient care and surgeon satisfaction. Entry into the surgical first assisting program is earned. An admissions criteria index has been developed to ensure students are ready.


Prerequisite courses for the dual surgical technology/surgical first assisting program are more intense, covering an additional semester. All core courses are the same, so if you are doing either the surgical technology or surgical technology/surgical first assisting student track, you take the same classes for the first 15 months. We devote a large amount of time to providing students with hands-on training and skills mastery in the lab setting prior to entry into the clinical site. Clinical experiences begin with the first class (five-hour experiences, three times) progressing from simple to complex (observation, shadowing a student, etc.) and continue with each course allowing progressively more involvement. Video self-critique and mock surgery are essential elements of this process, allowing students to do more upon arrival in the clinical setting. All students graduate together in their surgical technology cohorts. This is essential, as sometimes a CST/CSFA may forget their roots (i.e., that what makes them a great first assistant is the essential knowledge gained as a CST and skills they developed as a result of those opportunities at 2 a.m.).

For the traditional dual student, the last CST surgical technology semester is a transition semester with one additional class regarding the perioperative role of the surgical assistant. The experienced CST seeking admission into the surgical first assisting program may begin in either fall or spring. In spring semester, the traditional on-site students begin the core program of surgical first assisting. Preparing and completing reports for both programs has gotten easier as we’ve simplified the program. Students are tracked in their cohort from year to year with annual reports for the ST program due in spring and the SA program due in fall. This separation of the two annual reports helps. I also keep all my cohort data for the year in a binder, so that when I get audited or a site visit occurs, it is all there. A dual surgical technology/surgical first assisting program is a great way to address our upcoming surgeon shortage by providing individuals who can step up where they are needed. If you would like to ask anything about my program, just ask. I share anything and everything. Let’s make the surgical first assisting profession the strongest yet.

libby2015sqLibby McNaron, RN, CST, CSFA, CNOR, MSN, MSHRM, FAST,  works as the program coordinator for the surgical technology and surgical first assisting programs at Gulf Coast State College. She has served the surgical technology education community for over six years as a member of the Education and Professional Standards Committee, an author for the AST study guide and instructor’s manual, an educator for surgery since 1987,  and a program director since 1997.