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6/13/2024 Assembly approves bill to license certified surgical first assistants
Please note: The governor vetoed this legislation on June 26.

STATE HOUSE — The General Assembly today voted to approve a bill from Rep. David A. Bennett and Sen. Sandra Cano to address staffing shortages in operating rooms by creating a state licensure program for certified surgical first assistants.

The legislation (2024-H 7825, 2024-S 2874) now goes the governor’s desk for his consideration.

With a national health care worker shortage, surgeons in Rhode Island, particularly those who operate independently of hospitals, have struggled to find staff to work as first assists with surgeries. This legislation hopes to change that by creating a state license for surgical first assists. That, advocates say, would help surgeons throughout the state struggling with short staffing and allow surgeons to work with their preferred, trusted team members.

“This is a no-brainer,” said Representative Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston). “We have people who are trained to do the work and are certified to do the work. The state should license them to ensure they are allowed to do it.”

Said Senator Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), “Strong national certifications exist to license surgical first assistants; unfortunately, Rhode Island does not have a license that recognizes them. The consequences of this regulatory gap are skilled workers who can’t use their skills and surgeons who can’t book the help they need. It’s time to close that gap.”

Other states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, allow surgical techs who obtain additional training as a certified surgical first assistant to work independently with physicians as first assists.

While Rhode Island regulations already allow anyone deemed qualified by the operating surgeon and the health care facility to act as a surgical first assist, some hospitals do not accept surgical first assists who are not licensed registered nurses or physician assistants, whose scope of practice under state licensure explicitly allows them to act as first assists. Creating a special license for surgical first assists would define their scope of practice and clear up any potential questions about legal liability, clearing the way for them to practice freely as part of a surgical team.

Under this legislation, surgical techs could apply to a state board of licensure to be certified as first assists if they had been certified by an accredited national organization, completed training as a member of the United States armed forces or had at least one year of experience as a surgical assistant in Rhode Island.

For more information, contact:
Tristan Grau, Publicist
State House Room B20
Providence, RI 02903