Trauma Surgeon Training Programs, Degrees and Education Requirements

Trauma surgeons generally work in Level I trauma centers, providing leadership to emergency medical teams and ensuring continuity of care for critically injured patients admitted to emergency departments. Providing surgical care to trauma patients requires extensive training, proficiency in a wide range of procedures and a thorough knowledge base in critical care medicine.

Training Requirements and Recommendations

The educational requirements for trauma surgeons to practice in the United States include completion of a bachelor's degree and medical degree (Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine), as well as hospital- or clinic-based training through a residency and fellowship program. Students select their medical specialty during the third year of medical school and apply to residency programs in their final year. A prospective trauma surgeon can expect school and clinical training to take a minimum of 14 years.

Formal Education

Following completion of a general surgery residency program, aspiring trauma surgeons may complete a 1-year trauma surgery or surgical critical care program, or 2-year combined fellowship program. Combined program options include trauma surgery with acute care, orthopaedic trauma or surgical critical care.

Trauma Surgery Fellowship

A fellowship program in trauma surgery equips one with the administrative and clinical skills necessary to manage the most critically injured patients admitted to the emergency department. A key focus is leadership skills, since the trauma surgeon must be prepared to make difficult case management decisions and lead a team of other physicians, nurses and residents.

Surgical Critical Care Fellowship

Training in the field of surgical critical care includes rotations in trauma, organ transplantation, burn care and pediatrics. Patients in both the intensive care unit and surgical wards are included in rotations. Such programs are normally one year in length, but a second year often may be added that focuses upon trauma care.

Licenses and Certifications

Each state maintains its own licensing requirements, but most require completion of 1-3 years of residency training to meet the eligibility requirements for physician licensure. Additionally, physicians must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

State licensure is separate from board certification processes, which are specialty-specific. Surgical board certification examinations are administered by the American Board of Surgery (ABS), which offers certification options in general surgery and surgical critical care; there is no designated certifying exam for trauma surgery on its own.

All licensed physicians must complete a varying number of continuing medical education (CME) hours in order to maintain board certification. Surgeons must report on educational activities every three years to the ABS, and 50 CME credits are required annually. Other requirements to continue board certification include maintenance of licensure, participation in a quality assurance or outcomes-based assessment and completion of an examination.

Workshops and Seminars

Professional trauma surgery organizations offer annual medical conferences, usually lasting from 3-4 days, in which individuals may participate in various workshops and social or networking gatherings. Lectures, presentations and panels featuring surgical experts are also incorporated. Sample topics include research in trauma, emergency control of hemorrhaging and traumatic brain injuries. CME credits may be awarded for participation in these events.

Additional Professional Development

Trauma surgeons may apply to professional trauma surgery organizations for membership. In addition to affording admittance to yearly meetings, membership provides access to fellowship and job postings, as well as online resources such as trauma-related library materials. Scholarships for research funding are also available.

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