What you need to know
Surgeons treat injuries, diseases, and deformities through operations. Using a variety of instruments, a surgeon corrects physical deformities, repairs bone and tissue after injuries, or performs preventive or elective surgeries on patients.
Surgeons 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. While on call, they may need to address a patient’s concerns over the phone or make an emergency visit to a hospital or nursing home.
Some of the things a surgeon might do:
- Take a patient’s 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 any abnormal findings
- Recommend and design a plan of treatment
- Treat injuries, diseases, and deformities through operations
- Address concerns or answer questions that patients have about their health and well-being
- Help patients take care of their health by discussing topics such as proper nutrition and hygiene
- Communication skills: Surgeons 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. Surgeons 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: Surgeons 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.
The average pay for surgeons in the United States is $402,000 according to an annual Medscape survey in 2021.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Overall employment of surgeons is projected to decline 3 percent from 2020 to 2030.
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.
Surgeons typically need a bachelor’s degree, a degree from a medical school, which takes 4 years to complete, and, depending on their specialty, 3 to 7 years in internship and residency programs.
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.
Students spend most of the first 2 years of medical school in laboratories and classrooms, taking 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. Through rotations in internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery, they gain experience in diagnosing and treating illnesses in a variety of areas.