Neonatal Surgeon: Job Description and Education Requirements

Neonatal surgeons require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and credentialing to see if this is the right career for you.

Neonatal surgeons operate on newborns, correcting birth defects that require surgery. The path to becoming a neonatal surgeon is long, and includes completion of medical school, a residency program, fellowship, and licensing requirements.

Essential Information

Neonatal surgeons are specialized medical doctors who operate on newborns. The education and training to become a neonatal surgeon can take up to 19 years. After graduating from an undergraduate program and medical school, prospective neonatal surgeons must complete a general surgery residency, followed by a 2-year pediatric training program.

State licensure is needed to practice as a neonatal surgeon, and voluntary certifications are available. Neonatal surgeons work in private practice and at university and private hospitals.

Required Education Bachelor's degree; Doctor of Medicine (M.D.); completion of a general surgery residency; completion of a pediatric surgery training program with a neonatal sub-specialty; a year of research also might be required
Other Requirements State licensure; voluntary certifications in general surgery and pediatric surgery are available
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% for all physicians and surgeons*
Median Annual Salary (2016) $262,674 for pediatric surgeons**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

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Job Description of a Neonatal Surgeon

Neonatal surgery is a sub-specialty of pediatric surgery. A general surgeon can perform surgery on adults and children, but pediatric surgeons have the advanced education and skills necessary to perform surgery on infants and very young children. Neonatal surgeons are pediatric surgeons with additional education and training to perform corrective surgeries on newborns. They often repair chest, abdominal and urologic birth defects.

Neonatal surgeons are responsible for surgical preparation and oversight of critical patient after-care. They work with a neonatal hospital team to ensure a successful outcome of each surgery. Neonatal surgeons might use ultrasound technology to check for fetus abnormalities before birth. This gives the surgeon the opportunity to discuss issues with the parents and determine surgical strategy before birth.

Salary and Career Outlook

Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not analyze statistics on neonatal surgeons specifically, it does report that surgeons and physicians in general are expected to see a job growth of 14% between the years 2014 and 2024. The website reported in January 2016 that most pediatric surgeons earned between $97,760 and $434,591 at that time, with the median annual salary falling at $262,674.

Education Requirements for a Neonatal Surgeon

Aspiring neonatal surgeons should earn an undergraduate degree that includes courses in biology, organic chemistry and advanced math. Next, students must obtain a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) through an accredited 4-year medical school program and become a licensed physician by passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Once a licensed M.D., completion of a general surgical residency program in an accredited hospital is required. These programs usually take 5-8 years to complete. Students are then eligible for the American Board of Surgery's voluntary general surgery certification.

General surgeons then must complete a 2-year pediatric surgery training program with a neonatal sub-specialty, which might include two years of intensive surgeries. In some cases, a third year of research is available.

After completing a 2-year program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, students are eligible to take the American Board of Surgery's voluntary certification examinations for pediatric surgery. Both written and oral examinations are required.

In summary, a neonatal surgeon possesses specialized knowledge and skills obtained over an education career spanning up to 19 years. These professionals work in a hospital to surgically treat very young children with a variety of birth defects, some of which may be life-threatening. Salaries are extremely high in this field, and the job prospects are projected to be good from 2014-2024.

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