Surgeon: Career Summary and Required Education
Surgeons perform vital healing tasks in our society. Becoming a surgeon is a lengthy process generally requiring four years of undergraduate school, four years of medical school and 3-10 years of residency and fellowship training. Surgeons also continue the education process throughout their careers in order to maintain licensure and stay informed of medical advances.
Surgeon Career Summary
Surgeons are specialized physicians who operate on patients to correct or remove malformations, repair injuries or conduct preventative procedures on patients. They may also conduct examinations on patients and advise them on their medical situations. Many surgeons specialize in one particular field, such as orthopedic, cardiovascular or neurological surgery.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), surgeons and physicians are expected to experience a significant rise in job prospects in the coming years (www.bls.gov). Overall employment was expected to grow 24% from 2010-2020. The increasing demand for surgeons is attributed to continuing development of healthcare and associated industries, as well as a growing elderly population.
Surgeons, along with physicians, are some of the highest-paid professionals of any occupation. In May 2012, the BLS reported that surgeons earned over $187,199 in median annual earnings.
Surgeon Education Requirements
Before entering medical school, aspiring surgeons must complete undergraduate school to earn bachelor's degrees. These 4-year degrees do not have to focus specifically on medicine; however, curricula should focus heavily on the physical sciences to prepare students for the strong emphasis on science in medical school. Courses in anatomy, biology, chemistry, math and physiology may be beneficial. Some medical schools admit students after only three years of undergraduate school.
With bachelor's degrees, students are prepared to attend medical school and pursue Medical Doctor (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degrees. M.D. degree program curricula are generally divided into two years of foundational medical courses followed by two years of clinical clerkships. During clerkships, students work directly with patients, applying classroom instruction obtained in the first two years to diagnose illnesses and provide healthcare.
After medical school, students typically continue their medical training in residency programs, gaining practical experience in a chosen specialty under the supervision of licensed physicians. Some specialties include general surgery, orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery or urology. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), these programs can last 3-7 years depending on the specialty, though general surgery residencies typically take five years to complete (www.ama-assn.org). Surgeons who wish to focus their careers on sub-specialties of the profession must complete an additional 1-3 years of post-doctoral training in fellowship programs.
Along with extensive, formal training from an accredited medical school, all states require surgeons to obtain medical licensure. Licensure entails passage of the United States Medical Licensing Examination or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam. Surgeons must also become board-certified in surgery and any subspecialties by the American Board of Medical Specialists or the American Osteopathic Association. Surgeons are generally required to complete continuing education credits throughout their careers to maintain licensure and certification.
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