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General Surgeon: Education Requirements and Career Information

General surgery requires significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties, licensure and certification to see if this is the right career for you.

Essential Information

General surgeons are medical doctors who have completed a residency in general surgery. Their training requires at least 12 years of postsecondary education. Surgeons diagnose and repair diseases that require surgical intervention. To practice as a general surgeon, one must have a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) degree and state licensure which requires completion of a general surgery residency. Most general surgeons are also board certified, which requires passage of standardized examination by the American Board of Surgery (for MD's), or the American Osteopathic Board of Surgery (for DO's).

Required Education Prerequisite college courses (2-4 years),
Medical school (4 years),
General surgery residency (5+ years)
Licensure & Certification Board certification available,
State medical license required
Other Requirements Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit to maintain license and board certification after residency,
DEA registration to prescribe controlled substances
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 18% (for all physicians and surgeons)*
Average Salary (2013) $233,150 annually*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements for General Surgeons

Following completion of high school, the path to becoming a general surgeon starts with earning a bachelor's degree. Though technically not a requirement to get into medical school, most medical students have completed a bachelor's degree. While a student's undergraduate major is not necessarily important, students should have science and anatomy classes or take pre-med courses. Students must also pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in order to be admitted to a medical school.

Medical school is generally a 4-year program. The Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree program consists of two years of in-class work followed by two years of clinical rotations. During clinical rotations, students are exposed to a number of fields of medicine, including surgery. Surgical rotations provide students the opportunity to engage in surgical procedures. Following completion of a M.D. degree program, graduates interested in a career as a surgeon enter a general surgery residency.

General surgery residency programs typically last five years. These skill-enhancing, training programs are both didactic and clinical in nature. Residents continue with in-class work while sharpening their skills in the various aspects of general surgery. Many general surgery residencies also fulfill requirements for board certification.

Licensure Information

In order to practice, all doctors must be licensed by a state medical board. Licensure requirements can vary by state, but general conditions include completion of medical school and a residency program, and taking and passing licensing exams. The most common exam accepted by states is the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which is overseen by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME).

Career Information for General Surgeons

Hospitals, physicians' and surgeons' offices, clinics and even government agencies employ general surgeons. Some general surgeons are also self-employed. These licensed professionals repair and treat general internal injuries, such as broken bones, and wounded tissues or organs. In addition to performing general surgical procedures, these physicians also make diagnoses, conduct follow-ups and advise their patients on other recuperative or preventative healthcare measures.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Due to the continued growth of the healthcare industry, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted employment of physicians and surgeons to increase by 18% during the 2012-2022 decade. The BLS noted in May 2013 that the mean annual salary of surgeons was $233,150.

Certification Information

Board certification is not a requirement to practice medicine, although some surgeons and physicians do opt to become board certified to enhance professional credibility. The American Board of Surgery oversees board certification for general surgeons. Becoming board certified requires holding an unrestricted state medical license, completing a residency and training program, and passing a series of examinations. The general surgery qualifying examination consists of 300 multiple-choice questions, which is then followed by an oral examination.

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