Surgeon Degree Program Specializations and Options

Becoming a licensed surgeon in the United States requires at least 13 years of education. Residency programs are offered in general surgery and specialized surgical areas like neurological, orthopedic, and plastic surgery.

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Essential Information

Although there are no surgery degrees, aspiring surgeons earn a bachelor's degree and Doctor of Medicine degree prior to beginning a surgery residency. Residents work in hospitals under the direct supervision of surgeons. Surgery residency programs last a minimum of five years, but students interested in a specialized area of surgery may complete additional training.

General Surgery Residency

A general surgeon conducts surgeries that address a wide range of patient problems and issues. Some surgeries are life-saving procedures, such as appendectomies, and some are planned events. A general surgery residency takes five years to complete.

A medical degree is required for surgical residents. Coursework completed during medical school includes gross anatomy, patient care, nutrition, and organ systems. Students also complete clinical rotations, including a surgery rotation.

Residents receive most of their training through participation in surgeries. Areas of training include:

  • Abdomen and its contents
  • Breast, skin, and soft tissue
  • Head and neck
  • Vascular system
  • Endocrine system
  • Surgical oncology

Neurological Surgery Residency

Neurosurgeons manage disorders that affect the brain, the spinal cord and spinal column, and the peripheral nerves. Common conditions include head injuries, brain and spinal tumors, aneurysms, herniated discs, and spinal deformities. Neurological surgery fellowships provide highly specialized training in neuro-oncology, pediatric and functional neurosurgery, and cerebrovascular surgery.

Neurological surgery programs last a minimum of six years and may include an additional year of research training. Specific areas of training include surgical and nonsurgical management of disorders such as:

  • Brain, meninges and skull
  • Pituitary gland
  • Spinal cord and vertebral column
  • Cranial and spinal nerves

Orthopedic Surgery Residency

A residency in orthopedic surgery provides training in surgical and nonsurgical care for disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Orthopedic surgeons treat ailments such as spinal disorders, extremity deformities, joint arthritis, and vertebral compression fractures.

A 5-year program, an orthopedic surgery residency encompasses training in the following areas:

  • Foot surgery
  • Hand surgery
  • Microvascular surgery
  • Orthopedic trauma
  • Pediatric orthopedics
  • Spine surgery

Plastic Surgery Residency

A plastic surgeon repairs or reconstructs a broad range of physical defects. Both cosmetic procedures and general functional repairs or improvements are included within the specialty. Fellowship programs in the plastic surgery specialty are available in cranio-maxillofacial, microvascular, hand, and cosmetic surgery.

A residency in plastic surgery generally lasts five to seven years and includes training in the following areas:

  • Aesthetic plastic surgery
  • Reconstructive surgery
  • Reconstructive microsurgery
  • Pediatric plastic surgery
  • Laser surgery
  • Hand surgery

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The employment outlook for all types of surgeons is excellent, and salaries for surgeons are among the highest of all occupations. The job growth rate of physicians and surgeons, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, was projected to be 14% between the years of 2014 and 2024. The average annual salary for surgeons was $247,520 in May 2015.

Continuing Education Options

Many orthopedic surgeons continue education through fellowships in spine or hand surgery, foot and ankle, joint replacements in the hip and knee, and oncologic orthopedics.

Those looking to become licensed surgeons must pursue bachelor's and Doctor of Medicine degree programs. This is followed by a surgery residency, resulting in an educational process of at least 13 years in length.

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