Surgeon Majors: College Majors for Aspiring Surgeons

Nov 03, 2008

No undergraduate major exists within the singular field of ~'surgery'~, but there are several relevant majors that teach the foundational knowledge needed for becoming a surgeon later on. Learn about some of these programs, along with their requirements and courses common to them, as well as career prospects and ways to continue your education.

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Essential Information

Surgeons diagnose illnesses and administer surgical treatment through operations on patients suffering from disease or injury. In order to become a surgeon, a student must first earn a bachelor's degree before pursuing medical school education and training. Students can choose any major as long as they complete pre-medical courses, either as electives or as part of their chosen degree field, but human physiology, health sciences, and human biology are the most common. These programs generally last four years and require a high school diploma to apply.

Upon completion of medical school, future surgeons then need to pass a medical licensing exam (in order to be called 'doctor') and complete a series of residencies in medical specialties, such as surgery. A fellowship and board certification are post-residency options.

Bachelor of Science in Human Physiology

Students enrolled in a Bachelor of Science in Human Physiology degree program concentrate on all components of the human body and how they function, individually and as a whole, in well and diseased states. Through classes and labs, students explore what kinds of conditions affect the body and in what ways. The curriculum may include thermoregulation, environmental stresses, and measuring physical activity. Some human physiology programs may have pre-medical studies tracks. Schools may require that applicants have a certain grade point average and minimum standardized test scores.

Courses in biology, chemistry, physics, math and statistics are generally required before students can advance to more specialized, in-depth topics. Schools may offer internships in which students apply their knowledge in real world settings, such as a hospital, clinic, or research institution. Other coursework may include:

  • Rehabilitation science
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Exercise physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Immunology
  • Genetics and Aging

Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences

Students enrolled in a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences degree program gain an understanding of the physical human body and how it works, as well as mental and social health factors that play a role in achieving and maintaining overall health and wellness. This interdisciplinary program balances life sciences like biology and chemistry, and social sciences like ethics and cultural diversity with classes in exercise physiology, nutrition and community health.

Seminars may allow students to learn more about specialized topics in health sciences, like professional skills, patients' rights, culturally sensitive care, principles of health policy, and applying ethical principles to making decisions. An internship may be required. Students seeking to apply to medical school after completing the bachelor's degree program may need to take extra preparatory classes.

Courses may start with biology and chemistry before students learn about nutrition and exercise physiology. Other coursework may include:

  • Microbiology
  • Organic chemistry
  • Community health
  • Psychology
  • Anatomy and physiology

Bachelor of Science in Human Biology

A Bachelor of Science in Human Biology degree program frames the study of how and why the human body works the way it does with an anthropological look at influencing factors like evolution, society, and technology. The curriculum generally stresses general biology classes, including physiology, anatomy, and psychology, although students may have the chance to pursue a concentration in a more in-depth area of human biology study.

Human biology programs may focus on the structure of the human body as well as the way that it functions. Students may be required to take classes in statistics and research methods. Some schools also have a foreign language requirement. Other program coursework may include:

  • Biochemistry
  • Anatomy
  • Neuroscience
  • Genetics
  • Bioanthropology
  • Environmental biology

Popular Career Options

A bachelor's degree in health sciences could prepare individuals for a career in healthcare and physical therapy services, as well as advanced career preparation for students who want to continue their education to become healthcare professionals like doctors and pharmacists. Students interested in becoming surgeons usually select their surgical specialty after they are done with all of the necessary education, licensing requirements, and residency training required to become a surgeon. Surgical specialties include:

  • Neurology
  • Reconstructive/plastic surgery
  • Cardiovascular surgery
  • Otolaryngology

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the employment rate of physicians and surgeons was expected to grow 14% between 2014 and 2024 ( The BLS reported in May 2015 that working surgeons, of which there were an estimated 41,600, earned a median annual salary of $395,456.

Continuing Education Information

After earning a bachelor's degree, students attend four years of medical school, in which they prepare to become physicians through classes and clinical training in subjects like anatomy, physiology and chemistry and normal physical development. Medical school programs also teach students how to diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries.

After earning a Medical Doctor (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree and taking the appropriate medical licensing exam, doctors complete a residency program in which they gain experience performing tasks common to treating patients in a variety of specialties, including surgery. Upon completion of a residency program and several additional years of experience in surgery, surgeons may apply for voluntary board certification in surgery through the appropriate specialty board of the American Board of Medical Specialists (ABMS) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), depending on whether they have a M.D. or D.O. degree.

Since there is no major in surgery, aspiring surgeons must pick a different major before entering medical school, such as human physiology, health sciences, or human biology. All three of these baccalaureate majors will equip students with the knowledge of the human body needed to pursue further education, licensure, and certification on the road to becoming a surgeon.

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