How to Become a Surgeon in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for surgeons. Get the facts about education, training and licensing requirements to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Surgical Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Surgeon Do?

Surgeons are highly trained medical doctors who specialize in performing major surgical procedures. These professionals will often specialize in a particular area of the body, such as the nervous system or musculoskeletal system. Surgeons are trained to use a variety of precise medical instruments during operations. They may operate on patients to mend broken bones, fix deformities, repair torn tissue, remove disease or even prevent further complications or infections. Although they spend the majority of their time operating on patients, surgeons still examine patients, analyze lab results and communicate with patients about their condition and any preventative healthcare. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a surgeon.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.); Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Key Responsibilities Use medical instruments to perform corrective or preventative surgery; examine patients; order medical and diagnostic tests and analyze results; advise patients on procedures and healthcare
Certification and Licensing All states require doctors to be licensed; board certification is available
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% for all physicians and surgeons*
Mean Salary (2015) $247,520 for surgeons*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Is a Surgeon?

A surgeon is a physician who treats patients by performing invasive operations. As with other physicians, part of your job will involve examining patients, ordering diagnostic tests and making diagnoses. Once a patient's needs have been identified, you perform corrective or preventative surgery. You may treat patients affected by physical deformities, functional difficulties, injuries or diseases. You also prescribe pre- and post-operative care, which may include medications, antibiotics or special diets.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Medical schools require that applicants complete numerous undergraduate premedical courses, including physics, inorganic chemistry, biology and organic chemistry. As an undergraduate, you must demonstrate leadership qualities, gain healthcare experience and participate in extracurricular activities to become a more competitive medical school applicant. You also need to submit scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) along with your application.

Step 2: Graduate From Medical School

You may enroll in an allopathic medical program, which results in a Medical Doctor (M.D.) degree, or you may enroll in an osteopathic program, which results in a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. While both prepare you to become a surgeon, osteopathic programs place more emphasis on preventative medicine and the musculoskeletal system. In either type of program, your first two years are spent taking basic science courses, such as biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology and microbiology. Your last two years are spent gaining patient care experience and completing clinical rotations in family practice, internal medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and psychiatry.

Step 3: Earn a License

It is required that you earn a license in order to practice medicine in the United States. Allopathic physicians must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). and osteopathic physicians must pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX).

Step 4: Complete a General Surgery Residency

To become a surgeon, you must complete additional training, known as a residency, after graduating from medical school. General surgery residencies typically take five years to complete. As a resident, you will complete clinical rotations in various types of surgery, such as plastic, pediatric, cardiovascular, trauma and transplant surgery. You may also be required to conduct research and attend conferences.

Step 5: Consider Earning Board Certification

After completing your residency, you have the option to earn board certification in general surgery. The American Board of Surgery certifies allopathic surgeons, while the American Osteopathic Board of Surgery certifies osteopathic surgeons. You may be required to participate in continuing education and periodically renew your certification.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several related careers in the medical field that require a doctoral or professional degree, some of which are dentistry, podiatry and veterinary medicine. Dentists specialize in the care of patients' teeth, gums and mouths. They provide preventative care and can treat problems of the mouth, like cavities. Podiatrists focus on diagnosing and treating problems of patients' feet, ankles and lower legs. They are also qualified to perform surgery in these areas. Veterinarians treat various medical conditions in animals. They can perform surgeries, administer medication and vaccines, and dress wounds.

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