What Qualifications Do I Need to Be a Surgeon?

Becoming a surgeon entails lengthy, intensive education and licensure from your state medical board. Once you've completed state-mandated requirements, you can pursue additional certifications by professional organizations. Review the requirements for becoming a surgeon in more detail here. Schools offering Surgical Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.


Considering the nature of the work, it's not surprising that you'd need to meet some stringent qualifications to become a surgeon. In addition to needing personal characteristics such as being ethical, self-motivated, able to work under pressure, and detail-oriented, you can expect to undergo many years of education and a rigorous licensing process. Besides being academically qualified and licensed, you should be able to think quickly, be able to stand long hours in the operating room, and be devoted to administering quality medical care.

Important Facts About Surgeons

Mean Wage (2018) $255,110 per year
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 14% growth
Work Environment Physicians offices, hospitals, universities and professional schools, outpatient care centers, state government
Similar Occupations Dentists, chiropractors, optometrists, physician assistants, podiatrists, registered nurses, veterinarians

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


All physicians, including surgeons, must first complete an undergraduate degree program, usually in a science area such as biology or chemistry. Following undergraduate school, you then must complete four years of medical school and a three-year residency. After that, a multi-year internship in the surgery department of a hospital is required. The duration of this internship can vary, depending on the surgical specialty. After completing this advanced training, you'd then be qualified to start your own surgery practice or work as a lead surgeon in hospitals.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) notes that physicians and surgeons must be licensed in all U.S. states and territories. Specific licensing requirements may vary by state. In California, for instance, recognition by the state medical board requires four years of medical school and six years of clinical instruction. Many states have reciprocity agreements with other states, making it easy for you to transfer your license to another state. Some states, though, make it difficult to transfer licenses, and you may need to complete additional examinations. To obtain licensure, you must also pass the nationally mandated United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

Board Certification

After earning state licensure, you might want to consider getting certified by one of the organizations that deal specifically with surgery. The American Board of Surgery (ABS), founded in 1937, offers certifications in general, vascular, and pediatric surgery as well as in surgical critical care. To be eligible for certification by the ABS, you'd need a current license to practice medicine, and you must have completed five years of residency training, with each year including at least 48 weeks of full-time experience.

You must also have participated in a minimum of 750 operations and been the chief resident in general surgery for a year (www.absurgery.org). A comprehensive examination must be passed in a chosen area, such as general surgery, vascular surgery, pediatric surgery, or critical care surgery. Although board certification is not absolutely critical for employment, it is a highly sought-after professional credential.

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