What's the Job Description of a General Surgeon?

General surgery is an eclectic mix of surgical procedures. If you want to know what the job of a general surgeon entails, continuing reading this article. Schools offering Surgical Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Occupation Description

General surgeons perform operations involving the endocrine system, gastrointestinal tract, liver, colon, and other major parts of the human body. As a general surgeon, some of the procedures you'll perform include appendix or gallbladder removals, colonoscopies, thyroidectomies, and bariatric surgeries. Some of these surgeries are minimally invasive and are performed using laparoscopic methods. Others, such as organ removal or transplantation, can be very invasive.

Important Facts About General Surgeons

Professional Certification Not required; available through the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA)
Key Skills Excellent judgment and decision making, critical thinking, problem solving, science background, service minded, time management, coordination
Work Environment Clinics and private offices
Similar Occupations Dentists, optometrists, chiropractors, physicians assistants, podiatrists, registered nurses, veterinarians


General surgeons also have the ability to branch out into different specialties, such as plastic surgery, pediatric surgery, or organ transplantation. One of the more recent specialties involves performing surgeries, such as LAP-BAND and bariatric surgeries, to help with obesity. Plastic surgeons can perform procedures that range from repairing injuries of the skin to augmenting breasts. Many general surgeons also work with cardiac specialists on procedures involving the heart, such as valve repair and heart transplant surgery.

Education and Requirements

Your first step to becoming a general surgeon is to complete a minimum of three years of undergraduate education with courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and humanities. However, most students who gain admission to medical school have at least a bachelor's degree. The application process for medical school includes submitting your scores from the Medical College Admission Test and, in many cases, attending a personal interview.

The next step is to attend a four-year medical school program. You'll spend your first two years taking courses in anatomy, genetics, pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, and neurology. In your third year, students are required to complete clinical rotations in a number of different medical specialties, such as surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, and psychiatry. During the last year of medical school, one can take electives related to your career interests, which can include more surgical rotations.


Graduating from medical school doesn't automatically make you a licensed doctor. You'll need to earn licensure by passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination or Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam, depending on whether you graduated with a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. These three-part exams evaluate your ability to apply medical and scientific knowledge to caring for patients and promoting health in a clinical capacity. You also need to check with your state medical licensing board for any state-specific requirements that you'll need to fulfill.


After graduating from medical school, you'll need to enter a five-year general surgery residency program. As a resident, you'll have opportunities to assist with a variety of surgical procedures, as well as to provide pre- and postoperative care to patients. You can complete different clinical rotations in areas such as cardiac surgery, thoracic surgery, pediatric surgery, critical care, and anesthesia. You may also be required or encouraged to participate in research.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), the mean annual salary earned by surgeons was $240,440 in May 2014. Those employed by general medical and surgical hospitals earned average salaries of $220,810 a year in 2014. The employment of physicians and surgeons is expected to grow by 18% between 2012 and 2022, per the BLS.

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