Surgeon: College and School Program Options

Aspiring 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.). Applicants to a medical school program should have a solid background of various science classes. 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 and fellowships are offered at some universities and teaching hospitals.

Students may want to keep the following considerations in mind when choosing a medical school:

  • Students should look for medical schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).
  • Individual programs integrate course material differently, and time allotted for students to study individual subjects of interest can vary.
  • Students 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.
  • Some residency programs are affiliated with a university, so students may want to pick a program that matches their career goals and that has faculty members whose interests match their own.
  • Most residents work 80-hour workweeks, so 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

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

Top 10 Medical Schools

College/UniversityInstitution Type
Harvard University4-year, Private
Stanford University4-year, Private
Johns Hopkins University4-year, Private
University of California - San Francisco4-year, Public
University of Pennsylvania (Perelman)4-year, Private
Washington University in St. Louis4-year, Private
Yale University4-year, Private
Columbia University4-year, Private
Duke University4-year, Private
University of Chicago (Pritzker)4-year, Private

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