Surgeon Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

Last updated: June 22, 2022

A Surgeon, or General Surgeon, is responsible for performing surgeries on patients with injuries or illnesses. Their duties include reviewing patient x-rays and communicating with the patient about the procedure, preparing for surgery and completing surgeries with the assistance of other Surgeons, Nurses and surgical professionals and speaking with patients after the surgery to discuss its success and the recovery process.

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Surgeon duties and responsibilities 

Surgeons are often responsible for a variety of patient-care tasks prior to the actual surgical procedures. However, a Surgeon’s primary responsibilities will vary depending on their specialization and employer. Here are some examples of the duties that a Surgeon may perform:

  • Collect the patient’s medical history
  • Keep the chart and patient information up to date with current test results and treatments
  • Order new tests to be performed by healthcare staff
  • Review test results to identify and diagnose medical conditions
  • Develop treatment plans for patient care
  • Address any of the questions or concerns of the patient or their family
  • Aid patients through the healing process by providing post-surgical care and follow up
  • Collaborate within a team of other medical professionals
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What does a Surgeon do? 

Surgeons typically work for hospitals and specialty practices to perform routine or emergency surgeries on medical patients. They work closely with other medical personnel to ensure the completion of effective and safe procedures. Their job is it use their knowledge of a particular surgical specialty like pediatrics, cardiothoracic, neurological or general surgical practices to perform operations. They may be responsible for following up with patients days, weeks or months after completing a surgery to determine its success.

Surgeon skills and qualifications 

Aside from extensive education and training, there are several skills that a truly successful and effective Surgeon should possess, such as:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Leadership skills
  • Dexterity
  • Compassion
  • Patience
  • Physical stamina
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Organization skills

Surgeon salary expectations 

A surgeon makes an average of $230,208 per year. Salary may depend on level of experience, education and the geographical location. 

Surgeon education and training requirements 

As with most medical professions, becoming a Surgeon requires a great deal of formal education and training. In order to enter the field, candidates must obtain an undergraduate degree before pursuing a Doctor of Medicine degree, also referred to as an M.D. degree. After graduating with their bachelor’s degree in a related field, surgical students are required to pass the Medical College Admission Test, or the MCAT. In all, a Surgeon’s formal education will take around eight years to complete. 

Aside from having to complete rigorous courses in order to earn their doctoral degree, medical students complete rotations that allow them to gain valuable, on-the-job experience caring for patients. In addition, after graduating from medical school Surgeons must complete a surgical residency at a hospital. The length of residencies varies, but they can take anywhere from three to eight years to complete.

Surgeon experience requirements 

The amount of experience required for a surgical position really depends on the needs and preferences of the employer. Generally speaking, by the time a Surgeon is able to apply for surgical positions, they have already gone through extensive training and education to prepare them for the role. A Surgeon’s residency can last three to seven years and is possibly their most valuable and relevant experience when entering the job market.

However, the amount of experience required is also dependent on a Surgeon’s chosen specialty. Their focus may require a more intense residency program, both in duration and demands. 

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Frequently asked questions about Surgeons


What is the difference between a Surgeon and a Physician?

The difference between a Surgeon and a Physician is the types of degrees they earn, their work environments and job responsibilities. For example, both Surgeons and Physicians need to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree followed by a residency period to qualify for their jobs. However, Surgeons specialize in general or specialty areas of surgery, whereas Physicians specialize in general or specialty areas of primary care. 

Further, both Physicians and Surgeons have the ability to diagnose conditions and prescribe medications. However, Physicians are more likely responsible for performing routine health exams, consulting with patients about healthy choices and administering vaccinations or IVs. In contrast, Surgeons focus on treating injuries or diseases by performing operations. 

Because Surgeons are responsible for completing general or complex surgeries, they usually work in hospitals. They can also work in private practices or as part of educational institutions. In contrast, Physicians can work in various settings, including hospitals, private practices, rehabilitation facilities, healthcare clinics, non-profits or government agencies.


What are the daily duties of a Surgeon?

On a typical day, a Surgeon may have one or multiple surgical procedures scheduled. They start by reviewing their schedule and visiting patients to help ease their nerves and prepare them for surgery. Throughout the day, they get dressed for surgery, ensure they have the correct tools and perform operations with the help of Surgical Technicians and OR Nurses. After each surgery, they make sure to wash their hands and change out of surgical gear. 

In between surgeries, they check in with Nurses about patients in recovery, review details for their next surgery and take small breaks to keep their energy levels up.


What qualities make a good Surgeon?

A good Surgeon has empathy for others and exhibits a personable nature. This quality allows them to connect with patients and reassure them when they’re nervous about upcoming procedures. They have excellent manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination, enabling them to use surgical tools to repair parts of human anatomy. Surgeons also have an ethical code, which motivates them to treat every patient with respect before, during and after surgery. A good Surgeon also makes sure they have optimal energy before performing surgeries by drinking plenty of water, eating well and getting the right amount of sleep.


Who does a Surgeon report to?

Surgeons typically report to the Chief Surgeon within their ward. The Chief Surgeon oversees complex medical procedures and delegates patient assignments among surgical staff. Surgeons may also report to the Director of Surgery or the CEO of a hospital to receive new information about facility operations or surgical guidelines.

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