Learn About Being a Surgeon
What does a surgeon do?
A surgeon is a medical professional who performs operations on patients. They typically specialize in one area, for example, pediatrics, oral, neurological or reconstructive. The operations they perform can serve a variety of purposes, including repairing an injury, preventive measures like removing a body part to stop cancer or improving a bodily process like digestion. Surgeons also complete the following tasks:
Diagnosing injuries and illnesses
Counseling patients on the best treatment options
Coordinate with other medical professionals like nurses and anesthesiologists to ensure safe and successful operations
Use surgical tools to fix or remove parts of the body
Adhere to standards of safety and cleanliness in the operating room
Work under the supervision of hospital administration to follow facility guidelines
Maintain detailed patient records digitally and on paper
Develop post-operation treatment plans to promote overall patient health
Prescribe medications for aftercare and preventive measures
A surgeon’s salary may vary depending on their area of specialty, the facility they work in, geographical area and level of expertise.
Common salary in the U.S.: **$210,715 per year**
Some salaries range from $47,000 to $497,000 per year
Obtaining a position as a surgeon may involve certain requirements depending on the level of jobs for which you’re applying, including:
All surgeons must hold a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree to obtain work in their field. Before pursuing an M.D., you will need a bachelor’s degree, typically in a field like pre-medicine or a scientific discipline like biology, chemistry or anatomy. After earning a four-year bachelor’s degree, aspiring surgeons will need to attend medical school for another four years.
After medical school, surgeons typically complete a minimum of three years of internships and residencies. Each of these experiences is a type of on-the-job training where prospective surgeons learn proper surgical procedures, effective patient interactions and adherence to hospital policies. During an internship or residency, an aspiring surgeon will receive training from a senior professional in their field and receive a small stipend as payment for their work.
An internship is the first of these steps and usually entails stronger oversight from a mentoring surgeon. Candidates will typically complete an internship within one year. During this time, they will have fewer responsibilities and a lower stipend than residents. Interns may also rotate among specialties like emergency medicine, pediatrics, general surgery and others.
After selecting a specialty, surgeons will complete the remainder of their training as a resident. They will have more responsibilities and independence, but they will still report to a supervising physician. In residency, surgeons gain experience tending to patients, ordering tests and prescribing courses of treatment.
In addition to the standard medical licensure, all surgeons must receive from their state medical board, professionals in this field may also pursue these certifications:
Board certification: Surgeons can earn this optional credential from The American Board of Medical Specialties to show expertise in patient care, professionalism, medical knowledge, interpersonal and communication skills and others. They offer a variety of certifications for subspecialties like neurological surgery, orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery, vascular surgery and many more. To receive this certification, surgeons have a medical degree, complete three to seven years of residency in a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, have a medical license and pass an exam.
Fellowship from the American College of Surgeons: The FACS certification is available to surgeons who show continuing commitment to patient care, professional growth and the field of surgery in general. To obtain this credential, surgeons must meet several requirements, including having an ABMS certification, one year of surgical practice and a current appointment at an employing hospital. If a surgeon meets these requirements, they must submit an application to the ACS, which then assigns a team of the surgeon’s peers to evaluate their professional conduct. After evaluating the application to ensure the surgeon meets all requirements, the ACS Board of Regents will award the certification.
Surgeons require several hard and soft skills to succeed in their career, including:
Organization: With strong organization skills, surgeons can manage heavy caseloads and maintain accurate patient records. They must ensure both their offices and operating rooms have the tools and proper environment for patient care.
Time management: Surgeons often work long hours starting in the early morning. They may also split their days between a hospital and an off-site office. To maintain high levels of care, these professionals must be able to allot time efficiently to a variety of tasks.
Attention to detail: Surgery requires high levels of precision since these doctors are working to preserve patients’ health in high-pressure situations. These professionals will need a deep understanding of human anatomy and the ability to apply their techniques in the safest way possible. Surgeons must also ensure they follow hospital procedures exactly, including sanitation procedures in the operating room and subsequent paperwork.
Teamwork: Hospitals and other medical facilities are busy work environments with many colleagues for a surgeon to interact with. Surgeons will likely have to coordinate treatment with a patient’s primary care doctor who referred the patient for surgery. Teams of nurses and other doctors like anesthesiologists are all integral to the surgical practice, and professionals in this field will need to have respectful and productive working relationships with them so patients receive the appropriate care.
Communication: With many people in an operating room, the ability to give and receive verbal input is crucial to maintaining the patient’s health and safety. During surgery, these doctors might need to order medicine or other medical products at specific quantities. To ensure the other professionals follow the surgeon’s orders, they must speak clearly and concisely to the appropriate people. Additionally, they often work with other surgeons on the same procedure, so they may need to take direction as well.
Interpersonal skills: These skills entail working with others and being responsive to their needs. Surgeons will need traits like active listening and empathy, which allow them to understand their patients’ emotional states. Other interpersonal skills like dependability and patience can earn their patients’ trust and help them feel calmer about upcoming medical procedures.
Surgeon work environment
These professionals split their time between their office and in medical facilities where they perform operations. Their offices may be in a hospital or other surgical center, or off-site in an office building. They might also share office space in a medical practice with several other doctors. During office work, surgeons may sit for long periods, assessing patients and recommending treatments. Working in an office also involves extensive working with computers, since medical records are increasingly maintained digitally. Surgeons in a shared office will also need to communicate with administrators and other personnel to ensure the office operates according to its standards.
In their hospital work, these professionals stand for long periods while performing surgeries. Surgery rooms are fast-paced environments with many people performing separate tasks in collaboration to complete the operation. Surgeons must give clear directions so that each team member performs quick and accurate work. Keeping an operating room safe requires heightened attention to detail, so surgeons must ensure they have clean hands, proper protection and sterilized equipment.
How to become a surgeon
Here are some steps you can take to establish yourself as a surgeon:
Complete your education. After completing a bachelor’s degree in a scientific discipline, you will need to pass the Medical College Admissions Test. The MCAT is a computer-based quiz that takes around 7.5 hours to complete and assesses your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, scientific knowledge and writing ability. Once you earn admission to medical school, you will take coursework in pathology, pharmacology, anatomy, biochemistry and more to earn your M.D. or D.O.
Choose a specialty. While you may know early in your education and training what area of surgery you want to specialize in, you typically don’t have to decide until after completing medical school, during your residency. After learning the details of each type of practice, you can choose which you want to devote your career to.
Complete a residency. In the first three to seven years after completing medical school, you’ll need to participate in a residency. Starting as an intern, through completion of the residency, you’ll shadow experienced surgeons to learn how to attend to patients, perform operations and complete and maintain patient records.
Become licensed in your state. Every state has a different process for becoming licensed, but all of them require licensure to practice surgery. To earn a state license, you’ll have to hold an M.D. or D.O., complete a residency, and pass an examination. Depending on the state, surgeons must renew their license every one to three years and earn continuing education credits to maintain their eligibility.
Apply for jobs. Once you have completed your education, residency and licensure, you can apply for open surgeon positions. Study a variety of job postings and consider tailoring your resume to include important keywords and highlight necessary experiences and training.
Surgeon job description example
Our busy sports medicine practice is seeking an experienced orthopedic surgeon to perform operations and prescribe preventative medicine to athletes. We currently have an office with seven other surgeons and large support staff. We work closely with local baseball, football, basketball and hockey teams as well as others like runners and gymnasts. Our practice features state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment tools to offer the most effective treatment for our patients. Our doctors work in the top hospitals in the area and frequently teach special courses on injury prevention at local schools. The ideal candidate will have board certification and five to seven years of exceptional surgical experience. Some nights and weekends on-call may be required. We offer a competitive benefits package, including generous vacation days.
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