innerbody

How to Become a Surgeon

What Does a Surgeon Do?

surgeons in the surgical theater

Surgeons use both their hands and specialized instruments to treat illnesses and injuries. To access body structures, they must cut through the patient’s skin and other body tissues. This is done while either the patient is unconscious (general anesthesia) or the area being treated is numbed (local anesthesia). Like all physicians, surgeons also examine and assess patients; order and interpret diagnostic tests; and educate patients about health and wellness.

Patients might need surgery in order to:

  • Treat an acute (sudden, severe) condition such as appendicitis or trauma
  • Restore lost function (for example, by replacing a damaged hip joint with an artificial one)
  • Improve appearance (also called plastic or reconstructive surgery)
  • Confirm a medical diagnosis
  • Close a wound

One especially rewarding aspect of surgery is that it produces fast, visible results. In a matter of hours, surgeons can remove deadly cancers, correct deformities, restore circulation, and close gaping wounds. Surgeons also enjoy considerable excitement and variety in their practice, with each day bringing new challenges. In addition, the team-based nature of the surgical practice breeds camaraderie and offers opportunities for leadership.

Surgery is a medical specialty with many subspecialties, including:

  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery
  • Orthopedic (bone) surgery
  • Neurosurgery (brain and spinal cord)
  • Cardiothoracic (heart and lungs) surgery
  • Cosmetic (appearance-enhancing) surgery
  • Oncological (cancer) surgery

Workplace Details

About two-thirds of surgeons are employed by hospitals or physician groups. A significant number are self-employed, either as solo practitioners or partners within a group practice. About 3 percent work in educational settings such as universities and medical schools.

A general surgeon typically works 50 to 60 hours per week. Surgeons also must spend time “on call” during evenings, weekends, and holidays in case an emergency arises. Most surgeons divide their time between their offices, hospitals, and outpatient surgery centers.

Surgery is a very interactive specialty. In the operating room, surgeons lead a team that may include anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists, surgical technicians, and surgical nurses. Some also supervise the medical assistants and administrative staff who work in their offices.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$232300
Texas
$236300
Massachusetts
$247790
Ohio
$227660
Pennsylvania
$206170

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgeons earn a mean annual salary of $247,520. Among the most common job settings, salaries range from $140,180 (for those working for universities and medical schools) to $256,120 (for those in private practice).

Surgeon salaries also vary with experience, specialty, and reputation. Surgeons can often enhance their earnings by mastering new and in-demand procedures and by achieving good outcomes for patients. They may also be able to supplement their income by taking on leadership roles within their hospital or practice.

Job prospects for surgeons should be very good in coming years. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment of physicians and surgeons will grow by 14 percent between 2014 and 2024, which is a lot faster than the average for all occupations.

The aging or the American population and the expansion of healthcare coverage are increasing demand for all healthcare services. At the same time, there is currently a shortage of physicians in many areas.

Surgeons can improve their job prospects by choosing specialties such as cardiology and oncology that generally serve older patients. Willingness to relocate to rural or low-income areas is also helpful.

The American College of Surgeons posts surgical job openings on its website.

Compare Salaries by City

New York City NY Median Pay

$187200 Per Year

$90.00 Per Hour

Boston MA Median Pay

$187200 Per Year

$90.00 Per Hour

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

Created with Raphaël 2.1.0 AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE DC FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY

ALABAMA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $139,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$134,130Over $187,200Over $187,200

ALASKA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
AnchorageOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

ARIZONA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $163,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$159,850Over $187,200Over $187,200
TusconOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

ARKANSAS

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $125,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$113,730Over $187,200Over $187,200
Fort SmithOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

CALIFORNIA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $109,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 310

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$97,290Over $187,200Over $187,200
San Francisco Bay$129,240Over $187,200Over $187,200
San Diego$110,750Over $187,200Over $187,200
Sacramento$171,650Over $187,200Over $187,200

COLORADO

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $123,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$159,900Over $187,200Over $187,200
Colorado Springs$184,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

CONNECTICUT

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $66,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$68,170Over $187,200Over $187,200
Bridgeport$112,660Over $187,200Over $187,200
New Haven$55,500Over $187,200Over $187,200

DELAWARE

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $152,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$73,260Over $187,200Over $187,200

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Median Salary: 
$178,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$58,070Over $187,200Over $187,200

FLORIDA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $137,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$97,960Over $187,200Over $187,200
Orlando$87,700Over $187,200Over $187,200
Tampa$175,790Over $187,200Over $187,200
Jacksonville$151,070Over $187,200Over $187,200

GEORGIA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 39%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$163,030Over $187,200Over $187,200
AugustaOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

HAWAII

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$48,500Over $187,200Over $187,200

IDAHO

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

ILLINOIS

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $132,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$142,420Over $187,200Over $187,200

INDIANA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
IndianapolisOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200
South Bend$134,450Over $187,200Over $187,200
Fort WayneOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

IOWA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $139,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$62,280Over $187,200Over $187,200

KANSAS

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $142,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
WichitaOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200
Kansas CityOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

KENTUCKY

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $175,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$186,450Over $187,200Over $187,200
Lexington$99,690Over $187,200Over $187,200

LOUISIANA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $156,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$151,670Over $187,200Over $187,200
Baton RougeOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

MAINE

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
PortlandOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

MARYLAND

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $175,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
BaltimoreOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200
Frederick$142,560Over $187,200Over $187,200

MASSACHUSETTS

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $74,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$62,560Over $187,200Over $187,200
WorcesterOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200
Springfield$94,210Over $187,200Over $187,200

MICHIGAN

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $59,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$51,740Over $187,200Over $187,200
Grand RapidsOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

MINNESOTA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. PaulOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

MISSISSIPPI

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $154,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Jackson$137,850Over $187,200Over $187,200
GulfportOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

MISSOURI

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. LouisOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200
Kansas CityOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

MONTANA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $105,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Billings$165,380Over $187,200Over $187,200

NEBRASKA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
OmahaOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200
LincolnOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

NEVADA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $186,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 35%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las VegasOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200
Reno$121,940Over $187,200Over $187,200

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
ManchesterOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

NEW JERSEY

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $181,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$137,670Over $187,200Over $187,200
TrentonOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

NEW MEXICO

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

NEW YORK

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $65,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$73,290Over $187,200Over $187,200
Rochester$181,520Over $187,200Over $187,200
Albany$120,430Over $187,200Over $187,200

NORTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$172,940Over $187,200Over $187,200
RaleighOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200
GreensboroOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200
Winston - Salem$151,450Over $187,200Over $187,200

NORTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

Job Growth Data Not Available

OHIO

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $59,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
ClevelandOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200
Columbus$106,390Over $187,200Over $187,200
Cincinnati$53,940$159,500Over $187,200
Dayton$118,550Over $187,200Over $187,200

OKLAHOMA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$39,560Over $187,200Over $187,200
Tulsa$34,190Over $187,200Over $187,200

OREGON

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
PortlandOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200
Salem$125,120Over $187,200Over $187,200

PENNSYLVANIA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $56,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$56,650Over $187,200Over $187,200
Pittsburgh$106,030Over $187,200Over $187,200
Harrisburg$54,990$138,770Over $187,200
Allentown$81,180Over $187,200Over $187,200

RHODE ISLAND

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$95,770Over $187,200Over $187,200

SOUTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $156,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$53,320$63,470Over $187,200
Columbia$144,110Over $187,200Over $187,200
CharlestonOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

SOUTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux FallsOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200
Rapid CityOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

TENNESSEE

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $61,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$55,580Over $187,200Over $187,200
Memphis$168,160Over $187,200Over $187,200
Knoxville$173,460Over $187,200Over $187,200
Chattanooga$117,860Over $187,200Over $187,200

TEXAS

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $151,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$167,400Over $187,200Over $187,200
Houston$53,470Over $187,200Over $187,200
San Antonio$122,030Over $187,200Over $187,200
Austin$137,430Over $187,200Over $187,200

UTAH

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Ogden$169,820Over $187,200Over $187,200

VERMONT

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $58,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Burlington$55,760Over $187,200Over $187,200

VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $99,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$49,410Over $187,200Over $187,200
Richmond$144,280Over $187,200Over $187,200

WASHINGTON

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $118,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$59,900Over $187,200Over $187,200
SpokaneOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

WEST VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $167,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
HuntingtonOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200
Charleston$54,170Over $187,200Over $187,200

WISCONSIN

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $85,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$56,900Over $187,200Over $187,200

WYOMING

Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): Over $187,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cheyenne$168,640Over $187,200Over $187,200

Steps to Become a Surgeon

1

If still in high school, now's a great time to prepare!

Students interested in a career in surgery should begin their preparation in high school. Taking advanced math and science courses is a good idea. Earning college credit through an AP, IB, and dual-option programs may allow you to advance more rapidly into higher-level science classes once you reach university.

Beginning in high school and continuing through college, it’s important to demonstrate your interest in and passion for a career in medicine. Look for opportunities to shadow a doctor, work in a lab, conduct research or volunteer at your local hospital. Many universities offer summer enrichment programs for high school students pursuing medical careers.

2

Enroll to earn a bachelor's degree.

You don’t need a particular college major to apply to medical school after graduation, but you will need to take certain classes to fulfill the prerequisites:

  • One year of biology
  • One year of physics
  • One year of English
  • Two years of chemistry (including organic chemistry)

    Show Me Schools »

Some medical schools have additional prerequisites. Links to schools’ admissions requirements can be found on the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) website. Two detailed medical school guides are also available:

  • Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) by AAMC for Medical Doctorate (MD) programs
  • Osteopathic Medical College Information Book by American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) for Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) programs

3

Pass the MCAT with flying colors.

One year before you plan to enter medical school, you should take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), a standardized assessment of problem solving ability, critical thinking, and knowledge of natural and social science concepts.

4

Apply to medical school.

Medical school admissions are based on a number of factors, including grade point average, MCAT scores, recommendations, and an admissions interview. Both the AAMC and AACOM provide centralized application services that greatly simplify the process.

5

Attend medical school.

Medical school typically lasts four years. The first two years emphasize classroom- and lab-based learning. Coursework covers anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and the various body systems.

Students spend the second two years practicing their new skills under supervision. They typically rotate through the departments of a teaching hospital, including obstetrics, family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, neurology, and psychiatry.

6

Pass the first two parts of the USMLE.

Like all physicians, surgeons must be state-licensed in order to practice. State medical boards require physicians to pass one of the following exams:

Both USMLE and COMLEX consist of three parts that are typically completed during years 2 and 4 of medical school and during residency.

7

Begin your residency.

Upon graduation from medical school, aspiring surgeons complete three to seven years of on-the-job training in the specialty of their choice. This period is called residency. A general surgery residency usually lasts about five years.

After completing residency, surgeons may opt to pursue an additional one to three years of training (called a fellowship) in a surgical subspecialty such as pediatric, cardiothoracic, or head-and-neck surgery. Most fellowships include a research component.

8

Pass part 3 of the USMLE.

This final portion of the USMLE caps off your residency.

9

Pursue board certification.

Surgeons may take an optional test to become board-certified in surgery and/or a surgical subspecialty. Board certification is administered by:

10

Become licensed in your state.

State boards of medicine each have their own requirements for licensure.

11

Consider opportunities for your career to evolve.

Experienced surgeons can pursue a variety of opportunities to increase their responsibilities and make their practice more rewarding:

  • Specialists. Surgeons can enhance their reputation and earnings by becoming experts in a certain procedure and achieving excellent outcomes for patients.
  • Clinical educators. Surgeons may opt to supervise residents and medical students who are completing their training.
  • Professors. Medical schools hire surgeons to teach classes, supervise practical training, conduct research, and share administrative responsibilities.
  • Researchers. Many surgeons participate in studies and clinical trials to find new treatments and improve the quality and safety of surgical care.
  • Clinical leaders. Head surgeons work to enhance the surgical care delivered by their hospital or practice. They also supervise the performance and development of newer professionals.
  • Healthcare administrators. Surgeons often transition into the leadership of medical groups, hospitals, and health systems.
  • Policymakers. Some surgeons help to shape healthcare policy at the federal, state, or local level.

Exploring the Degree Path

All surgeons must hold a medical degree (MD or DO). After graduating from medical school, they then complete five to seven years of supervised practice called residency. Since surgical education takes at least a decade, let’s break it down into bite-sized steps.

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

First things first: in order to get into medical school, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree. This typically takes about four years of full-time study to complete. Your degree can be in any subject, but you will need to make sure that you fulfill the medical school prerequisites. These almost always include English, biology, chemistry, and physics. Some medical schools have additional requirements.

Show Me Schools »

To help aspiring surgeons out, many colleges offer a pre-med track. This isn’t a major per se, but it does include the classes you’ll need to make a strong application to medical school, such as:

English

Many med schools require the completion of writing-intensive courses that introduce the composition process. Students also practice writing for a variety of purposes.

Organic chemistry

Learn how carbon-containing compounds react and combine at the molecular level.

Biochemistry

Study the chemistry of living things. Covers proteins, amino acids, and metabolism.

Biology

Explore the structure, function, classification, and identification of living organisms. Useful subjects for pre-med students include microbiology, cell biology, and genetics.

When it comes to getting into medical school, a good pre-med program can make a big difference. Ideally, it will offer academic advising, application assistance, and opportunities to volunteer and network with physicians. So when choosing a college, look for one with a strong track record of medical school acceptances.

A final thought on bachelor’s degrees: a few schools offer combined BA/MD or BS/MD programs. They’re pretty competitive, but getting into one usually carries a conditional acceptance to medical school. This is an option to explore if you’re a strong student who’s 100 percent set on becoming a surgeon.

MEDICAL SCHOOL

4 years

After earning your bachelor’s degree, medical school is your next step. But consider that once you start, you’re going to be studying and working intensively for the next five to 11 years. More and more aspiring physicians are delaying their medical school applications to work, volunteer, conduct research, extend their undergraduate studies, or pursue personal interests. All of the above can actually strengthen your medical school application when the time comes.

So now let’s talk about medical school. This is where you gain the knowledge and the practical skills you’ll need to care for patients. It typically takes about four years to complete, after which you earn either your Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree.

A lot of people wonder about the difference between an MD and a DO. Both degree programs cover the same subjects. However, MD training tends to focus on diagnosis and treatment (including surgical treatment), while DO programs emphasize health and prevention. While most surgeons hold MDs, DOs also can and do make great surgeons.

The first two years of medical school are dedicated to building up your medical knowledge and practical skills. Some courses you might find in your med school catalog:

Gross anatomy

Study the structure of the body in the most hands-on way possible: cadaver dissection.

Essentials of clinical medicine

Learn to conduct a patient exam and formulate a diagnosis. May also cover subjects like history of medicine and the quality movement.

Histology

Explore the role cells and tissues play in body functioning.

Human health and disease

Take a close-up look at diseases and treatments as they relate to the nervous, cardiac, gastrointestinal, and other body systems.

Armed with this knowledge, you’ll complete your clinical rotations, or clerkships, in Years 3 and 4. This usually includes some exposure to generalist medicine (family practice, pediatrics) as well as some common specialties (psychiatry, emergency medicine, and yes, surgery).

So what does a clerkship look like? Let’s use surgery as an example. You’ll probably spend a lot of time in the OR assisting an experienced surgeon. Under close supervision, you’ll get to try your hand at using instruments to retract tissue or suturing the incision. You’ll also present real-life cases to the surgeon, residents, and your fellow med students during rounds.

During Year 4, you’ll have some elective clinical rotations built into your schedule. This is a great time to get more experience with a surgical specialty of your choice.

RESIDENCY

5-8 years

After medical school, surgeons complete a five-to-eight year training period called residency. This is where you really start strengthening your surgical skills and delving deeper into your chosen specialty.

When it comes to residency, there are four basic pathways you can take:

  • General surgery residency (5 years)
  • Specialty surgery residency (5-7 years). Common in plastic surgery, orthopaedic surgery, neurological surgery.
  • General surgery residency followed by a second residency in a surgical specialty (6-8 years). Common in colon and rectal surgery, thoracic surgery.
  • Integrated program (6 years). Combines general and specialty training. A handful of integrated residencies are now available in thoracic surgery.

Residents rotate through a variety of different clinical settings, including general and vascular surgery, surgical specialties, anesthesia, pediatric surgery, and the ICU. They also perform operations – starting as first assistant but with increasing independence as their skills improve. In addition, residents create individual care plans for patients before and after surgery. Some surgical residencies include a year or two dedicated to full-time research.

Some activities you might participate in as a surgical resident:

Didactic sessions

Just like medical school, residency follows a classroom curriculum. Often this involves discussing cases in order to strengthen your judgment and diagnostic skills.

Simulation lab

Practice responding to different situations that can arise in the OR in a protected, no-risk environment.

Journal club

Discuss new medical research with your fellow providers. Often includes professionals from many disciplines, such as nursing and therapy.

Morbidity and mortality conference

Review real-life cases from your hospital and discuss how safety and outcomes could be improved.

Keys to Success as a Surgeon

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Compassion

Surgeons must be able to communicate effectively and put nervous patients and their families at ease.

Leadership

Surgery is a very interactive specialty. In the operating room, surgeons lead a team that may include anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists, surgical technicians, and surgical nurses. Some also supervise the medical assistants and administrative staff who work in their offices. Surgeons must know how to get the best out of their teams and be willing to accept responsibility for the patient’s outcome.

Emotional stability

When complications arise during an operation, the surgeon must make decisions quickly and solve problems while under pressure.

Flexibility

Surgeons must be knowledgeable enough to respond to unexpected changes in the patient’s condition and adjust the surgical plan as needed.

Transparency and openness

As part of a responsible practice, surgeons must be willing to review their outcomes with colleagues and make performance data available to the public.

Comfort with technology

Because surgical technology advances rapidly, surgeons are constantly upgrading their skills. Regular training in the latest tools and techniques is an essential. Surgeons must be comfortable with technology and able to adapt as it evolves.

Dexterity

Sure hands and fingers help surgeons to tie knots and use instruments.

Physical stamina

Surgery requires considerable stamina. Surgeons may stand and bend for several hours at time during an operation.

Safety

Like all healthcare professionals, surgeons are at increased risk for contagious diseases, including blood-borne ones like hepatitis and HIV infection. To ensure their safety, they must use personal protective equipment and exercise caution when handling biological waste.

x