CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a surgeon.
Is becoming a surgeon right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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There are some general subjects that can provide a strong foundation for a career in medicine and surgery. Here are some recommended high school courses for aspiring surgeons:
- Biology: Biology is a fundamental subject for anyone interested in pursuing a career in medicine or surgery. It covers topics such as anatomy, physiology, genetics, and cellular biology, which are all relevant to the study of the human body and medical conditions.
- Chemistry: Chemistry is another essential subject for future surgeons, as it provides a foundation for understanding the chemical processes that occur in the body and the effects of medications and other treatments.
- Physics: Physics can help students develop a strong understanding of the principles of motion, force, and energy, which are relevant to surgical procedures and medical technologies.
- Math: Math skills are essential for surgeons, as they need to be able to perform complex calculations and measurements during surgical procedures.
- English: Strong communication skills are important for surgeons, as they need to be able to communicate effectively with patients, families, and other medical professionals. English courses can help students develop strong writing and communication skills.
In addition to these core subjects, it can also be helpful for students to take courses in psychology, anatomy, and health sciences, as well as to participate in extracurricular activities such as volunteer work or internships in healthcare settings. Ultimately, students should aim to take a well-rounded course load that challenges them academically and prepares them for the rigors of medical school and beyond.
Formal Education Steps
Becoming a surgeon requires a significant commitment of time, education, and training. Here is a general overview of the steps required to become a surgeon:
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Aspiring surgeons typically begin by earning a bachelor's degree in a pre-med science-related field such as biology, chemistry, or physics. However, students can pursue any undergraduate major as long as they complete the prerequisite courses required for medical school admission.
Step 2: Pass the MCAT and Attend Medical School
After completing their undergraduate degree, students must pass the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM). Students must then attend medical school for four years to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. Medical school coursework covers topics such as anatomy, pharmacology, medical ethics, and more.
Step 3: Complete a Residency Program
Following medical school, aspiring surgeons must complete a residency program, which typically lasts five to seven years. During this time, they receive hands-on training in their chosen specialty and work under the supervision of experienced surgeons. Residents are paid a stipend and may have opportunities to participate in research and other educational activities.
Step 4: Optional Fellowship Training
Some surgeons choose to complete additional fellowship training after their residency, which can take an additional one to three years. This allows them to further specialize in a particular area of surgery, such as pediatric surgery or transplant surgery.
Step 5: Obtain Medical Licensure and Certification
After completing their education and training, surgeons must obtain a medical license in the state where they plan to practice. They must also obtain certification from the American Board of Surgery, which requires passing a written and oral examination.
Step 6: Continue Professional Development
Surgeons must continue to engage in professional development throughout their careers, including attending conferences, staying up-to-date on the latest research and medical technologies, and participating in continuing education and training.
There are several fellowships available for surgeons who want to further their education and training in a particular area of surgery. Some of the most common fellowships include:
- Surgical Oncology Fellowship: This fellowship is designed for surgeons who want to specialize in the treatment of cancer. It typically involves training in the diagnosis and management of various types of cancer, as well as in surgical techniques for removing tumors.
- Trauma Surgery Fellowship: Trauma surgery fellowships are designed for surgeons who want to specialize in the treatment of traumatic injuries, such as those caused by car accidents or falls. The fellowship typically involves training in the management of severe injuries, including those involving multiple organ systems.
- Cardiothoracic Surgery Fellowship: This fellowship is designed for surgeons who want to specialize in the treatment of conditions affecting the heart and lungs. It typically involves training in surgical techniques for performing heart and lung surgeries, as well as in the management of complications related to these procedures.
- Colorectal Surgery Fellowship: Colorectal surgery fellowships are designed for surgeons who want to specialize in the treatment of conditions affecting the colon and rectum. This typically involves training in surgical techniques for treating conditions such as colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and diverticulitis.
- Pediatric Surgery Fellowship: Pediatric surgery fellowships are designed for surgeons who want to specialize in the treatment of children with surgical conditions. This typically involves training in surgical techniques for treating conditions such as congenital anomalies, tumors, and trauma.
These are just a few examples of the many fellowships available for surgeons. Each fellowship typically has its own requirements and application process, so it's important to research each one thoroughly before applying.
In the United States, the process of obtaining licensure to practice surgery involves the following steps:
- Completion of Medical School: The first step is to graduate from an accredited medical school and earn a medical degree (MD or DO).
- Residency Training: After completing medical school, the surgeon must complete a residency program in their chosen surgical specialty. This typically involves several years of training in a hospital setting under the supervision of experienced surgeons.
- Board Certification: Once the surgeon has completed their residency training, they can become board-certified by passing an examination administered by the appropriate board, such as the American Board of Surgery or the American Osteopathic Board of Surgery.
- State Licensing: Surgeons must also obtain a license to practice medicine and surgery in the state(s) where they intend to work. This typically involves passing an examination, meeting certain educational requirements, and completing a background check.
- Maintenance of Licensure: Once a surgeon has obtained their license, they must maintain it by meeting continuing education requirements and periodically renewing their license.
It is important to note that licensure requirements may vary slightly from state to state, so it is important for surgeons to research the specific requirements for the state where they plan to practice.
Board certification is a process by which surgeons can demonstrate their expertise and proficiency in a particular area of surgery. The process of board certification typically involves the following steps:
- Completion of Residency Training: The first step is to complete an accredited residency program in the surgeon's chosen specialty.
- Eligibility: Once the surgeon has completed their residency training, they must meet certain eligibility requirements to be eligible to sit for the board certification exam. This may include a certain number of years of experience in their specialty, as well as other educational and professional requirements.
- Examination: Surgeons must pass a comprehensive written and/or oral examination administered by the appropriate board, such as the American Board of Surgery or the American Osteopathic Board of Surgery. The examination is designed to assess the surgeon's knowledge and skills in their chosen specialty.
- Maintenance of Certification: Once a surgeon has become board-certified, they must maintain their certification by meeting continuing education and professional development requirements, as well as periodically renewing their certification.
It is important to note that board certification is a voluntary process, but it is highly recommended for surgeons who wish to demonstrate their expertise and commitment to their profession. Board certification may also be required by hospitals, insurance companies, and other organizations.