What Courses Are Needed to Become a Surgeon?

Surgeons repair parts of the human body with invasive, surgical procedures. Surgeons must be well educated in both medicine and the surgical specialty. If you want to know what courses you need to take to become a surgeon, keep reading. Schools offering Surgical Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Required Education

After graduating from a bachelor's degree program or completing the prerequisite, undergraduate courses in biology, chemistry, and other sciences, you must apply to and get accepted into medical school. Medical school usually lasts four years and combines classroom learning with clinical experience. The first two years of medical school give you an overview of the practice of medicine, including courses that are essential for future surgeons, such as human structure, normal function, principles of disease, and body systems. In the third and fourth years, the curriculum begins to include clinical applications in medicine, general surgery, and other specialties.

Important Facts About Becoming a Surgeon

Prerequisites Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
Degree Level Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Concentrations Public health; health sciences; law; management; divinity; research
Continuing Education Certification is voluntary; available from the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), or the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS)
Mean Salary (2018) $255,110
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 14% growth

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Preliminary Courses

One of the first courses for medical school students is anatomy. This course offers you an overview of the human body, including organ functions and the composition of structures in the body. You may be required to dissect cadavers in order to see firsthand how the body works. You'll also complete coursework in pathology, physiology, biology, and pharmacology, which includes both in-class and laboratory instruction. In clinical medicine courses, you'll learn how to record patient histories and perform physical examinations.


Third-year studies introduce you to clinical rotations or clerkships, in which you'll gain experience in a variety of medical specialties, such as general medicine and pediatrics. You'll also complete a surgical clerkship, which usually lasts eight weeks. Clerkships offer you the opportunity to perform procedures and assess patients under the direct supervision of licensed doctors. Some fourth-year curricula allow you to choose electives in specialties of interest, including further rotations in surgery. These upper-level studies also prepare you for residency training, the next step toward becoming a surgeon.

After graduation, you must study for and pass a licensing exam, such as the United States Medical Licensing Examination. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) notes that the licensing process varies by state, and students should consult their state's medical board for specific requirements.

Residency Training

To work as a surgeon, you must complete a surgical residency in a hospital, healthcare center, or medical university. You may apply for one through the Electronic Residency Application Service or another application service. After being accepted, residents typically gain five years of paid, practical training in their specialties and various subspecialties. Clinical rotations in gastrointestinal and laparoscopic surgery, pediatric and vascular surgery, trauma and transplants are complemented with skills labs, lectures, and research training. After your residency, you may also choose to pursue a fellowship in a surgical subspecialty.

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