Trauma Surgeon: Job Description & Career Requirements

Trauma surgeons require significant formal education. Learn about required training, job duties and certifications to see if this is the right career for you.

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Trauma is a surgical specialty for physicians interested in treating traumatic, critical injuries. Surgeons of this type follow the same education path as other physicians, but complete surgical training after medical school. As with all physicians, licensure is required to practice.

Essential Information

In the field of surgery, a career in trauma is one of the most intense and demanding. Education requirements for trauma surgeons include obtaining an undergraduate degree, followed by four years of medical school and several years of general surgery training. After completing their general surgery residencies, those interested in trauma may undertake specific training that will prepare them to handle the most stressful of emergency situations.

Required Education Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree
Other Requirements Licensure required for all surgeons
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% for all physicians & surgeons*
Median Salary (2016) $305,927**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **PayScale.com

Job Description

Trauma surgery encompasses treatment of the most severe, life-threatening, penetrating and blunt force injuries. A career as a trauma surgeon involves operating on critical, and often multiple injuries to different organ systems. Some of the commonly operated on organs include:

  • Pancreas
  • Spleen
  • Stomach
  • Colon

Trauma surgeons also work with surgeons in other specialties to stabilize patients in critical condition, and usually work in the emergency care area of a hospital or medical center. The job environment is high-stress and unpredictable.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that demand for physicians and surgeons will increase by 14% between 2014 and 2024. In January 2016, PayScale.com reported a median annual income of $305,927 for trauma surgeons.

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Career Requirements

Bachelor of Science in Biology

Aspiring trauma surgeons must first obtain a bachelor's degree in an area such as pre-medicine, biology or a related scientific discipline. These 4-year degree programs should provide the education base for students who seek to enter medical school. Common courses include:

  • Biology
  • Anatomy
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

Doctor of Medicine

Like all aspiring doctors, students interested in trauma surgery must complete four years of medical school and earn a doctor of medicine (M.D.). M.D. programs combine two years of laboratory and class work, which generally includes coursework ranging from pharmacology to microbiology, with two more years of clinical clerkships. During clerkship rotations, students begin to work on patients in real health care environments. Graduates may take the United States Medical Licensing Examination to become licensed to practice.

Medical Residency

General surgery residencies cultivate the broad base of surgical knowledge essential to trauma surgeons, who must be able to treat various kinds of injuries to all organ systems. Students typically may spend three or more years in a general surgery residency where they complete surgery rotations in trauma and cardiac surgery. Residents are also trained on patient care and nutrition.


Upon completion of the residency and accruing the appropriate experience requirements set by the American Board of Surgery (ABS), the member of the American Board of Medical Specialties that certifies surgeons, residents may take the General Surgery Qualifying Examination, followed by the General Surgery Certifying Examination. Those who successfully pass both examinations are qualified to take the Surgical Critical Care (SCC) Certifying Examination to become board certified in trauma surgery.

Trauma Fellowship

Upon completion of their medical residencies, surgeons may enter 1-2 year fellowships in trauma and critical care. These programs offer trauma surgeons additional training on supporting critical organs, such as the lungs and kidneys, in addition to managing organ transplants and other high-risk procedures. As such, fellow gain experience advanced experience with assessment and management of patients in critical condition. Fellows may also complete clinical research in surgery, as well as teach residents and staff.

While a career as a trauma surgeon requires an undergraduate degree, medical school, residency and licensure, the median salary is high and the job outlook is projected to be much faster than average through 2024. This job requires strong surgery skills and the ability to respond to emergency situations.

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