A surgeon’s life is a mixture of intense study, extremely hard work, and the huge benefit of helping another human recover from illness. If this sounds like an interesting career to you, then learning how to become a surgeon is a wise step on your career path.
If you’re considering doing one of the most challenging yet rewarding jobs out there, then you’re probably wondering how long it takes to become a surgeon and how much money surgeons make.
To learn the answers to those questions and more, including what educational requirements you need and what the different surgical specialties are, then be sure to read the guide on how to become a surgeon below.
What Does a Surgeon Do?
- Spending time prepping for surgeries
- Working with patients a lot, from diagnosing their illness to explaining their surgery’s potential risks, and pre-operation routines like how much a patient should or shouldn’t eat
- Working alongside other surgeons to diagnose and treat illnesses and working with a team in the operating room
- Taking and reading tests and x-rays
- Doing ward rounds and paperwork
- Learning, learning, and more learning. You will be learning new or evolving technologies that help with surgical procedures or further specialties within specialties, and patient care and communication
- Performing surgical procedures on the human body, sometimes standing for hours on end
Essential Surgeon Skills
A Steady Hand
You’ll need to perform delicate operations on muscles, vessels, and the whole human body, so your hands need to be steady under pressure. Your eyes and spatial awareness are also key factors when performing surgery.
You will be dealing with people a lot more than you may think, from patients to fellow surgeons and medical colleagues. You even need to have written communication skills, as you will keep GP’s informed about your patients. Luckily you can improve this skill over time by working on your communication skills, but if you already feel comfortable talking to people, that’s a great start.
Physical and Mental Stamina
As a surgeon, you will be on your feet a lot as you will be doing long operations, ward rounds, and even ‘running’ to patients who need critical care. You will need to keep physically fit to perform to the best of your abilities. Not to mention mental stamina; you will need to concentrate on one thing for a long time.
Leadership and Decision Making
You’ll be working in teams in the operating room; if you are the lead surgeon, you may need to lead the team to help the patient. And it may not always run smoothly; are you able to make excellent decisions under pressure? Are you a great problem solver?
Perhaps, next to memorizing all of the medical information, the toughest challenge will be emotional. You will experience the joy of helping a patient get better, but you will also be unable to help patients, too. Are you resilient enough to push through this to help others?
Not only is this a long learning process to get your license, but even throughout your career, you will be experiencing new cases and new emerging technologies. So if you love learning then that is a great sign, as you will be continuously learning.
Surgeon Salaries and Job Outlook
Once you’ve got your surgical license and you are a fully-fledged life-saver, you could earn around $208,000 per year, or $100 an hour, according to the US Bureau of Statistics.
Job employment of surgeons is expected to grow around four percent in the next 10 years, which is pretty standard for most employment.
How to Become a Surgeon: A Step by Step Guide
This won’t be a quick and easy process. To become and surgeon and save lives, you will need to spend a lot of time studying and then a lot more time practicing.
Starting from your pre-medical degree to the end of your residency, it will take about 11 to 16 years. Below is a breakdown of the stages, the years of study, and what you will be doing.
Step 1: High School – 4 years
If you are in high school, your first baby steps will be to do exceptionally well in your high school subjects. It’s good to take subjects like physics, chemistry, math, and English. Aim for the highest grades and you can even do extracurricular activities to boost your chances, like volunteering at a hospital or anywhere you are working with or helping people.
Step 2: College Degree in Pre-Med – 4 years
This is where you will gain an undergraduate degree that will prepare you for your medical degree. Make sure you pick a college that has a curriculum that meets the standards for medical school and prepares you for the MCATS (renowned as the most challenging professional exam out there). You should be studying the following:
- Organic chemistry
- General chemistry
- Vertebrate anatomy
- Medicinal chemistry
- Cellular and molecular biology
Step 3: MCAT Exam
This is the moment you will have been prepping for. As your pre-medical degree comes to an end, you will take the MCAT exam to give you time to apply for medical school.
Step 4: Medical School (graduate degree) – 4 Years
This is a tricky choice as all medical schools are different; some focus on medical technology and others range from practical knowledge to purely academic, and everything in between. Which one you choose depends on you and which hospitals you want to do your residency in.
But basically, you will be studying more in-depth on how to be a surgeon/medical practitioner and then getting your MD degree and your license to practice medicine. Some of the topics covered will include:
- Homeostasis I & II
- Mind, brain, behavior
- Professional development
- Practice of medicine
- Immunity and disease
- Medical law
Step 5: Surgical Specialty & Residency – 3 to 8 Years
Now comes the time to be a surgical resident. It’s time to put your years of medical school to the test in a hospital. A residency program can be anywhere from three to eight years depending on what specialty you decide to go into.
Here you will find mentors in the specific field you want to learn and programs to further your skills. This will essentially be the beginning of your career in medicine, and here is a quick overview of 13 surgical specialties to choose from:
- General Surgeon: Works on a range of surgical conditions around the whole body and usually deals with trauma patients
- Thoracic Surgeon: Known as a heart surgeon, deals with all things chest (heart, lungs, esophagus)
- Colon and Rectal Surgeon: Deals with diseases associated with the intestinal tract, colon, rectum, anal canal, and perianal area (also close-by organs like the liver and urinary and female reproductive systems)
- Obstetrics and Gynecological Surgeon: Involved with surgically delivered babies and any issues involving the female reproductive system. Can also do more training for high-risk pregnancies and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
- Gynecologic Oncology Surgeon: Specialized in gynecological cancers
- Neurological Surgeon: Focused on the brain, nervous system, spinal cord, and cerebrovascular system
- Ophthalmic Surgeon: Works on healing eyes and vision
- Orthopedic Surgeon: Works with the musculoskeletal system; bones, joints, muscles, associated nerves, and arteries
- Otolaryngology Surgeon: Works on disorders of the ears, respiratory, and upper alimentary systems
- Pediatric Surgeon: Works with children from newborn to teenage years on a range of health issues
- Plastic Surgeon: Works on repairing, replacing, and reconstructing the body, usually the upper body for aesthetic reasons
- Urologist: all things adrenal gland and genitourinary system
- Vascular Surgeon: Someone working on very delicate arteries and veins
Should You Become a Surgeon in 2020?
It may be the most challenging job process, requiring dedication, sacrifice, and sore legs and a sore back at times, but if it sounds like a fit for you, it is the most wonderful work you could do.
Not only is being a surgeon one of the highest-paid careers, but you could be saving people’s lives.
Private practice is more centered around patient care and building relationships with patients. It gives more freedom in terms of how the practice is organized and working hours, and provides the ability to perform ambulance and office-based surgeries.
Institutional practice is working full-time with a hospital or clinic, allowing you to deal with rarer cases. The administrative side of the business is already in place, as well as the rules. Lastly, it already provides the required insurances, healthcare coverage, and retirement saving programs.
Like all interviews, it can seem scary to go through the interview process when being asked many questions and having to know your answers. However, like most interviews, it’s best to see it as an opportunity to ask them questions so that you can see if it is the right fit for you. Remember to prepare ahead of time.
On average a surgeon will work about 40 to 60 hours per week, not including if you are on call and required to go in on days, nights, and weekends. It’s a huge dedication of your time, so make sure it’s the right choice for you.
There are plenty of federal loans, grants, and even colleges that help provide financial aid. The best thing to do is research your requirements for your tuition fees and research government-funded loans and other tuition financial aids to find the ones that best suit your needs.