Surgeons treat injuries, diseases and physical deformities through operations. Using a variety of instruments, tools and devices, they repair bone and tissue after injury, correct deformities and perform preventative or elective surgeries on patients.
Like other physicians, surgeons conduct examinations, perform diagnostic tests and counsel patients on treatment and prevention. They may choose to specialise in one area of medicine such as orthopaedic, cardiovascular or reconstructive surgery.
Duties and responsibilities
- Examine the patient to determine medical condition and surgical risk
- Analyse patient's medical history and exam results to assess need for surgery and best procedure
- Counsel patients on preventative care, including nutrition, and discuss treatment options
- Operate on patients to repair injuries, improve or restore bodily function, and correct deformities
- Follow established surgical techniques and proper protocol during operations
- Refer patients to, and consult with, medical specialists and other practitioners when necessary
- Provide treatment through medicine and surgery for diseases, disorders and orthopaedic conditions
- Prescribe sedatives, antibiotics, diets and other preoperative and postoperative treatment regimens
- Address all patient concerns before and after surgery; advise patients via phone for urgent issues
- Prepare case histories for diagnosis or to share with hospital staff, students or for publication
- Supervise and direct activities of residents, nurses, specialists, assistants and other staff
- Manage all surgery services, including the scheduling and coordination of procedures
- Ensure sterility of operating room, instruments and equipment
- Arrange for procurement of needed supplies, instruments and devices
- Provide consultation and assistance on operations to physicians and other surgeons
- Conduct research and testing on new surgical techniques for the improvement of patient outcomes
Skills and knowledge
AVERAGE WORKING HOURS
Nights, weekends, holidays occasionally
Most surgeons work full time and may split their hours between an office and a hospital or clinic. The job can include scheduled consultations and surgeries as well as emergency procedures. Surgeons may work erratic hours, including nights, weekends and holidays.
Surgery requires focus and precision, and procedures often require standing for long periods of time. Surgeons work in a sterile environment and must wear protective clothing. Exposure to contagious patients is possible, but following safety protocols can minimise the risks. As a surgeon, you must be able to handle stressful conditions.
Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.
MD or DO degree
Surgeons typically have a bachelor's degree before entering medical school. While a specific major is not initially required, many students take pre-med coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, maths and English. Entrance into medical school requires transcripts and high scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). You will also need to submit letters of recommendation and interview with members of an admissions committee.
Some medical schools offer combined undergraduate and medical education programmes, which can take six to eight years to complete. After earning a medical degree, aspiring surgeons must complete five to seven years of hospital residency in their chosen specialty.
After completing their degree and residency training, surgeons must be licensed in their state. This includes passing the US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) for MDs or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) for DOs. Check with your state licensing board for details on further requirements.
Certification is not required but available from the America Osteopathic Association (AOA) or the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS). Certification requires completed residency and a specialty certification exam. Options include general surgery, orthopaedic surgery and reconstructive surgery.
Surgeons often begin their career by assisting more experienced practitioners during operations. Years of good outcomes and proficiency in surgical techniques should lead to primary roles on procedures, particularly more challenging ones.
Getting board-certified in a specialty will also help you land more prestigious positions in a hospital or group practice. Some surgeons prefer to go into their own private practice, particularly in a specialty like orthopaedic or plastic surgery.
Successful surgeons can eventually transition into more of a teaching, supervisory or administrative role. You may also prefer to contribute your knowledge and experience to jobs in academia and medical research.