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Surgeon Job Description, Career as a Surgeon, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College, medical school, and specialized training

Salary: Median—$282,504 per year

Employment Outlook: Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Surgeons are physicians who operate to repair injuries, correct deformities, prevent diseases, and generally improve the health of patients. They examine patients to determine if surgery is necessary, evaluate the risks involved, and select the appropriate surgical procedure.

General surgeons perform many kinds of operations. Others specialize in one type of operation or one system or area of the body. Neurosurgeons, for example, operate on the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system, while thoracic surgeons operate on lungs and other organs in the chest cavity. Diseases of bones and joints, such as arthritis, as well as the treatment of broken bones, are the focus of orthopedic surgeons.

Education and Training Requirements

Medical schools require applicants to have bachelor's degrees, usually with majors in a science, such as chemistry or biology. They look for well-rounded students, so other courses and activities are important. Most medical colleges have four-year programs that lead to doctor of medicine (MD) degrees. A few medical schools offer combined undergraduate and medical school programs that last six rather than eight years. In all cases, medical school is followed by internships and residencies—on-the-job training at hospitals. Surgical residency programs generally last five years. Surgeons must also take licensing examinations and earn board certification in their areas of specialization.

Individuals who want to be surgeons must be self-motivated and have the physical and mental stamina to handle the pressure and long hours of medical education. Surgeons continue studying throughout their careers to keep current in their fields.

Getting the Job

Beginning surgeons may enter private practice or group practice, with affiliations with one or more hospitals. Some surgeons choose to work for the federal government in veterans' hospitals or the military. College placement offices can be helpful in finding positions. Surgeons also make contacts during their internships and residencies that may lead to employment.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Surgeons advance by gaining more skill and knowledge and by increasing their number of patients. General surgeons may move into areas of specialty. In some large urban hospitals, surgeons become heads of surgery departments. With additional education and training, surgeons may also teach or do research.

Employment of surgeons is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2014, largely because the health-care industry is expected to expand. The growing and aging population should spur overall growth. Also, new technologies permit more tests and more procedures for conditions that were once untreatable. Competition may be stiff for specialists in urban and suburban areas, which are attractive to surgeons because of higher earning potential and continued contact with colleagues.

Surgeons are medical specialists who operate on patients to repair injuries, correct deformities, prevent diseases, and generally improve the health of patients. (© Helen King/Corbis.)

Working Conditions

Surgeons work long hours, mostly at hospitals where they operate on patients or visit pre- or postsurgery patients. Surgeons frequently perform emergency operations. Most surgeons maintain offices outside hospitals where they explain procedures to their patients.

Earnings and Benefits

The income of surgeons varies according to specialty, geographic location, years in practice, and reputation. In 2004 the median salary for general surgeons was $282,504 per year.

Where to Go for More Information

Association of American Physicians and Surgeons
1601 N. Tucson Blvd., Ste. 9
Tucson, AZ 85716
(800) 635-1196

American College of Surgeons
Division of Education
633 N. Saint Clair St.
Chicago, IL 60611-3211
(800) 621-4111

Self-employed surgeons arrange their own benefits. For those who are not self-employed, benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesHealth & Medicine