Surgeon Career Overview
Career Clusters: Health Sciences

What you need to know

What is a surgeon?

Surgeons treat injuries, diseases, and deformities through operations. Using a variety of instruments, they correct physical deformities, repair bone and tissue after injuries, or perform preventive or elective surgeries on patients.

What does a surgeon do?

Surgeons are physicians that perform surgical procedures on people to address specific health issues. They usually work in sterile environments while performing surgery and may stand for long periods. 

Many work long, irregular, and overnight hours, and may travel between their offices and hospitals to care for their patients. They also work on call and can be called into the hospital at a moment’s notice to perform surgery.

A typical day for a surgeon might include these duties:

  • Perform surgery on patients to treat injuries, diseases, and/or deformities
  • Discuss surgery options with patients and go over their medical history
  • Update charts and patient information to show current findings and treatments
  • Order tests for nurses or other healthcare staff to perform
  • Review test results to identify surgical needs
  • Recommend and design a plan of treatment

Watch this video to learn about what our surgeon role models do:

What skills are needed?
  • Communication skills: they need to be excellent communicators. They must communicate effectively with their patients and other healthcare support staff.
  • Compassion: Patients who are sick or injured may be in extreme pain or distress. They must treat patients and their families with compassion and understanding.
  • Detail-oriented: Patients must receive appropriate treatment and medications. Surgeons must accurately monitor and record various pieces of information related to patient care.
  • Dexterity: They may work with very precise and sometimes sharp tools, and mistakes can have serious consequences.
  • Organizational skills: Good recordkeeping and other organizational skills are critical in both medical and business settings.
  • Patience: Surgeons may work for long periods with patients who need special attention. Persons who fear medical treatment may require more patience.
  • Physical stamina: Surgeons should be comfortable lifting or turning disabled patients, or performing other physical tasks. Surgeons may spend a great deal of time bending over patients during surgery.
  • Problem-solving skills: Surgeons need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They need to do this quickly if a patient’s life is threatened.

Watch this video to learn more about what skills are needed to be a successful surgeon:

How much does a surgeon make?

The average pay for general surgeons in the United States was $343,990 in May 2023 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A surgeon’s pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.

What is the career outlook?

Employment of surgeons is projected to grow 3 percent from 2022 to 2032 in the United States according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is about as fast than the average growth rate for all occupations.

In 2022 there were about 59,600 surgeons in the United States.

Despite limited employment growth, there will still be openings as a result from the need to replace surgeons who transfer to different occupations or retire.

Job prospects are expected to be very good because almost all graduates of domestic medical schools are matched to residencies (their first jobs as physicians) immediately after graduating.

How to become a surgeon

You will need to complete the following schooling before becoming a surgeon:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • A degree from a medical school, which takes 4 years to complete
  • 3 to 7 years in internship and residency programs.

Some popular pre-med Bachelor’s Degrees are Biology, Chemistry, or Sociology. Once you’ve received your Bachelor’s Degree, you will need to apply to medical school to become a surgeon.

Medical schools are highly competitive. Most applicants must submit transcripts, scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and letters of recommendation. Schools also consider an applicant’s personality, leadership qualities, and participation in extracurricular activities. Most schools require applicants to interview with members of the admissions committee.

Medical school students spend the first 2 years in laboratories and classrooms. They take courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, psychology, medical ethics, and in the laws governing medicine. They also gain practical skills; learning to take medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses.

During their last 2 years, medical students work with patients under the supervision of experienced physicians in hospitals and clinics. They do clinical rotations in all areas of medicine and aspiring surgeons would spend more time in surgery to gain experience in surgery.

Watch this video to learn more about how to become a surgeon from our role models: