Surgeon: Career Definition, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

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

What Is a Surgeon?

Surgeons are medical doctors who perform operations and surgeries to treat diseases and injuries. This may include correcting deformities, repairing bone or tissue and performing surgery intended to prevent further medical complications. Surgeons use a variety of medical instruments and must make very precise movements during surgery. They also perform routine medical tasks like examining their patients, conducting diagnostic tests and counseling patients on their condition or ways to prevent health issues. Surgeons will often specialize in a particular area of the body, such as neurological surgery for the brain and nervous system or cardiovascular surgery for the heart. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a surgeon.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Training Required 2- to 6-year residency
Key Responsibilities Examine patients, assess their condition and make diagnosis as candidate for surgery; determine what procedures will remedy the medical situation presented; perform surgical procedures to remove diseased tissue or to correct damage due to injury, illness or disease; restore normal function or for cosmetic reasons
Licensure or Certification All states require doctors to be licensed; board certification in surgery is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 20%*
Median Salary (2016) $363,858**

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

What Is the Career Definition of a Surgeon?

As a surgeon, you are a medical doctor who uses sterile surgical instruments and invasive techniques to operate on anesthetized patients. In doing so, you can correct anomalies and treat injuries or diseases. You must collect and study information regarding a patient's medical background, perform physical examinations, and diagnose patients' medical conditions. When it has been established that an operation is needed, you must ensure your patients receive the necessary preoperative and postoperative care. Your work takes place primarily in operating rooms, hospital wards and in some clinics.

What Is the Employment Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that surgical careers were expected to expand by 20% from 2014-2024, which was more rapid growth than average compared to other occupations (www.bls.gov). The job outlook for surgeons was favorable, especially in under-served low-income and rural communities. Prospects were also believed to be good for surgeons who specialized in radiology or cardiology.

Possible job growth was attributed to increases in health care businesses and in the numbers of elderly individuals who relied on quality health care. Job openings were expected due to many surgeons retiring during the decade. Surgeons who worked in medical and surgical hospitals earned average annual salaries of $363,858 as of 2016 according to Salary.com.

What Education Requirements Must I Fulfill?

Like all physicians, surgeons must hold a bachelor's degree in addition to a Doctor of Medicine. As you begin working towards your goal of becoming a surgeon, enroll in an undergraduate premedical program, which includes courses in mathematics, biology, microbiology, health economics, chemistry and physics. Next, apply to medical schools that are approved by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).

The medical school admissions process is very selective, so it will be necessary for you to have earned superior grades and have impressive Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores. You will also need letters of recommendation from your prior educational institution. Medical school will consist of classroom and laboratory instruction in the first two years. Your curriculum should include courses such as clinical anatomy, neurological science, biomedical informatics and infectious disease.

Your final two years of medical school might include classes such as ethics, clinical epidemiology and clinical reasoning. Also included in your program will be internships or clerkships, where you'll have opportunities to provide direct care to patients while being supervised by medical doctors. When you have graduated from medical school, you'll begin a hospital residency where you can choose a medical specialty. In essence, residencies provide on-the-job paid training, and they can last between two and six years.

After completing your residency, apply to the American Osteopathic Association or the American Board of Medical Specialists to become certified in your specialty. Be aware that any aspiring surgeon who has successfully completed medical school must pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination or the United States Medical Licensing Examination to practice in all states.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The medical field offers several other alternative careers that require a doctoral or professional degree, including optometrists, podiatrists and veterinarians. Optometrists focus on the treatment of the eye and visual system. They may prescribe glasses, manage diseases of the eye and treat eye injuries. Podiatrists concentrate on the foot, ankle and lower leg in patients. They treat illness and injuries in these areas, and may perform surgery if needed. Veterinarians perform a wide range of medical procedures, including surgery, on animals. They aim to improve animal health by treating injuries and illnesses, vaccinating animals and researching diseases in animals.

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