Surgeon: College and School Program Options

Surgeons gain their training through medical school, residencies and fellowships. These programs vary, and the choices a student makes about which programs to attend will affect his or her future career path.

How to Choose a Surgery Program

Students wanting to become surgeons will need to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.). Medical schools are plentiful throughout the U.S. Surgery residencies and fellowships are offered at some universities and teaching hospitals.


  • Accreditation
  • Coursework
  • Research vs. clinical practice
  • Residency hours


Students should look for medical schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).


While the coursework is mostly the same across medical schools, programs differ in how the coursework is delivered. Students may want to research the different ways in which programs integrate course material and how much time is allotted for students to study individual subjects of interest. Surgery students can benefit from time to explore various subspecialties within surgery. This will allow students to develop a specific interest which will put them in a better position to choose an appropriate residency.

Research vs. Clinical Practice

Programs also vary in how much they emphasize research. Students who would like research to play a major role in their careers may want to choose from programs that offer an opportunity to conduct original research projects. Students particularly interested in research may want to look for opportunities to complete a dual M.D./Ph.D., which will prepare them for roles in academia and teaching hospitals. Students with little interest in research may want to choose from programs that allow them to focus on clinical practice.

Some residency programs are affiliated with a university and require students to complete research. For these programs, students will want to pick a program that matches their career goals and that has faculty members whose interests match their own. Other programs are housed in freestanding medical centers and do not require much research.

Residency Hours

Most residents work 80-hour workweeks; students may want to look for programs that work with residents to create a better work-life balance.

Surgeon Program Overviews

Medical School

To gain entry into medical school, students must first complete coursework in general and organic chemistry, biology, physics, biochemistry and English composition and submit scores from the Medical College Admission Test. In addition to coursework, students complete clerkships that train them to apply their knowledge in healthcare settings. Clerkships include rotations in general medicine, surgery, pediatrics and emergency medicine, among other areas. In most schools, students spend the final two years engaging in research or participating in independent study and completing clinical elective courses. Coursework for medical school includes:

  • Anatomy
  • Genetics
  • Biochemistry
  • Pathology

Residency in Surgery

Upon completing medical school, students enter into a residency program that trains them in general surgery or in a subspecialty of their choosing. Surgery residencies vary in length depending on the specialty, but most last about five years. Students learn in classroom settings and through clinical experience. Students receive their licenses to practice medicine and prepare to become board certified during the residency. Examples of subspecialties include:

  • Thoracic surgery
  • Plastic surgery
  • Vascular surgery

Fellowship in Surgery

Some doctors go on to complete fellowships in order to deepen their expertise in a subspecialty, such as pediatric surgery or adult reconstructive surgery. Students can also complete fellowships that allow them the time and resources to conduct research. Fellowships usually last 2-3 years. Fellowships also include coursework; this varies according to subspecialty, but can include further specialized study in:

  • Anatomy
  • Pathology
  • Immunology
  • Physiology
  • Histocompatibility

Related to Surgeon Schools

Search Degrees, Careers, or Schools