Background There is a lack of evidence to support standard of care and concordance with surgical antimicrobial prophylaxis (SAP) guidelines in our setting. There is an opportunity for clinical pharmacists to facilitate this process across all surgical disciplines. Objective To assess adherence of surgeons to SAP guidelines. Method This was a retrospective study of 250 patients who underwent surgery during 2012 in Mafraq Hospital, Abu Dhabi. We evaluated prescribing of SAP, antimicrobial selection, first-dose timing, dose interval, treatment duration and adherence of surgeons to local hospital guidelines. Results We reviewed 250 patients (193 were male and 57 were female, mean age 36 ± 1.2 years); 54 % had elective operations and 46 % underwent emergency surgery. Adherence to hospital guidelines was 32.1 %. Antimicrobial selection, timing of the first dose, dosage interval and treatment duration were concordant with the hospital guidelines in 26, 31 and 40.3 % of cases, respectively. Main barriers to adherence to hospital guidelines were lack of awareness and education. Conclusions The present study indicated poor adherence to the SAP guidelines. The timing of administration of SAP was not appropriate in two-thirds of the patients and more than half received more than three doses of SAP inappropriately. Continuing medical education should target antimicrobial prophylaxis (selection, timing and duration), clinical pharmacy antibiotic services and cyclic auditing. © 2014, Koninklijke Nederlandse Maatschappij ter bevordering der Pharmacie.