Surgeons are medical doctors who perform operations as their primary method of treatment. Within this field, one can specialize even further in areas like orthopedic, neurological, cardiovascular, or plastic surgery, among other areas. Since surgeons practice a specialized form of medicine, the education and training criteria are rigorous, often taking up to sixteen years to complete.
|Required Education||Doctoral degree (M.D.)|
|Other Requirements||Residency and licensure; a fellowship and certification are also available|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||20%|
|Average Salary (May 2015)*||$247,520|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Surgery generally requires the most intensive preparation of all medical specialties. Before surgeons are qualified to operate, they must meet a set of challenging education requirements. These generally include four years of undergraduate study, four years of medical school leading to a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree, and three to eight years of surgical residency at a hospital.
Surgeons typically start out by enrolling in a university or college with a strong pre-medical program and by choosing a major related to medicine, such as biology, physics, or chemistry. After earning a bachelor's degree, they must pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in order to apply to medical school.
During medical school, students must gain an even greater mastery of subjects taken at the undergraduate level. These include anatomy, microbiology, biochemistry, physiology, pathology, psychology, ethics, and medical law, among others. Programs also require students to go through rotations, where they learn the basics of patient care across a variety of specialties.
Upon graduating from medical school, aspiring surgeons must earn an M.D. and become licensed before they can begin their residency. Residencies function as salaried training and allow students to begin specializing. Those interested in surgery work under the supervision of other experienced surgeons.
Many surgeons choose to be general surgeons, while others focus on specific parts of the body, such as the brain and the heart. Salaries vary according to specialty and years of experience; however, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the average annual salary for surgeons was $247,520 in May 2015.
Although operating is a large part of the job, surgeons also provide consultations and perform before and after check-ups. They generally work with a team of medical professionals that includes anesthesiologists, nurses, and other doctors. A surgeon's hours are generally long, including time spent operating and on-call. Because the nature of the work can be so consuming, many hospitals limit the work week to 80 hours with one day off. Surgeons must not only be in excellent physical condition with the ability to handle delicate procedures, but must also be able to communicate with people under pressure and to create trust. They must be able to lead the operating room team even under the most difficult and rapidly changing circumstances.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for surgeons is expected to rise by 20 percent between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). One can advance by having performed a high rate of successful surgeries, participating in experimental studies, and gaining seniority. Those with strong leadership abilities may even aim at becoming chief of surgery. Apart from operating, some may also choose to focus on teaching or medical writing.
In conclusion, surgeons usually need to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree and complete a residency of three to eight years.