Surgeon: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for surgeons. Get the facts about education, training, job growth and salary 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 specialize in using surgical procedures to treat injuries, diseases or deformities. They may operate to repair broken bones, reconstruct burned or damaged skin, remove tumors and more. Surgeons still perform many of the same general tasks of a physician, such as taking medical histories, answering patient's' questions and ordering diagnostic tests. Most surgeons specialize in a particular kind of surgery, like reconstructive surgery, or in a particular area of the body, like the heart. They also work closely with other doctors, nurses, technicians and other healthcare workers. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a surgeon.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Training Required 5-year surgical residency
Key Responsibilities Examine patient, diagnose and assess suitability for surgery; perform surgery to repair injury, correct deformities, remove diseased tissue or restore normal function; monitor patient's recovery
Licensure or Certification All states require doctors to be licensed; board certification in surgery is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% for all physicians and surgeons*
Median Salary (2017) $364,537**

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

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Be a Surgeon?

Surgeons are among the most highly educated and trained specialists in any field. You first need to earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. While no specific major is required, you need to satisfy medical school prerequisites by studying general and organic chemistry, mathematics, physics and biology. Medical programs are highly selective, so you can focus on building a strong academic record and consider extracurricular activities, such as volunteer work in hospitals.

Following your undergraduate studies, you need to complete four years of medical school. The curriculum is typically structured to produce practitioners with a broad, deep understanding of the medical field. You can study anatomy, psychiatry, pediatrics and pathology. Extensive lab work and clinical experiences are an important part of your studies. To be admitted, you need to submit undergraduate transcripts, scores from the Medical College Admission Test and letters of recommendation. You may also be required to participate in an interview with admissions officers.

How Do I Become Licensed and Certified?

All U.S. states and territories require that you be licensed as a physician to practice medicine. This entails passing the 3-part United States Medical Licensing Examination (www.usmle.org). To pass, you must show your ability to provide safe, reliable medical care and your mastery of concepts and theories. The results of this examination are sent to your state's medical board, which grants you licensure. Each state has its own licensing requirements; you can learn about your state's standards through their medical license-granting body.

The American Board of Surgery offers certification exams in several specialties (www.absurgery.org). You can qualify and get certified in general surgery, vascular surgery and pediatric surgery, among other options. The general surgery certification process requires you to take and pass a qualifying exam, which assesses your knowledge through an 8-hour computer test. You then take an oral exam that measures your clinical abilities in three 30-minute sessions. You must have a medical license and have completed five years of residency, among other requirements, to be eligible for certification.

What Might My Residency Be Like?

As an aspiring surgeon, you need to pursue a surgical residency following graduation from medical school. A general surgery residency typically lasts about five years, giving you clinical experience and the opportunity to learn about various types of surgeries during your rotations. These might include general surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, transplant surgery and pediatric surgery. You learn by observing and working with experienced doctors and senior residents.

During your third and fourth years, you become a senior resident and rotate through various hospital departments, possibly including trauma, vascular surgery and burn surgery. The fifth year of residency includes rotations as the senior resident. Throughout, you may work long hours, overnight shifts and on-call shifts, and you often perform various surgical procedures throughout.

What Kind of Career Might I Have?

Surgeons often spend hours standing and performing labor-intensive, detailed surgeries. You also need to be able to handle the stress and pressure that comes with operating on people, sometimes under extreme circumstances. You may choose to specialize in a particular area, such as orthopedic surgery or neurosurgery.

Surgeons and physicians are among the highest-paid professionals in any field. In 2017, Salary.com reported that the median salary of surgeons was $364,537. In addition, job prospects for surgeons and physicians were expected to grow 14% between 2014 and 2024, according to the BLS.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those interested in exploring related career options can learn more about veterinarians, optometrists and podiatrists, all of which require a doctoral or professional degree. Veterinarians conduct many of the same medical and surgical procedures as physicians and surgeons, but with animal patients. They diagnose and treat various conditions, and may work with companion animals, farm animals or exotic animals. Optometrists are eye doctors. They can prescribe glasses or contacts to improve sight, as well as diagnose and treat injuries and diseases of the eye. Podiatrists also treat patients and perform surgery, but specifically on the feet, ankles and lower legs of patients.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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