How to become a surgeon

surgeonTo become a surgeon, you must spend a great deal of time in school and in hospitals as a resident. Surgeons earn extremely high salaries compared to the national average, but with these inflated earnings comes high tuition bills that are accrued while you are attending college, medical school, other special training programs and taking standardized tests. To truly exceed, you need to be sure that you have what it takes to inherently be a skilled surgeon. Read on, and learn about the steps that you must take to become a Medical Doctor or a Doctor of Medicine who specializes in invasive medical treatments.

Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree

While there is not a specific major requirement for most medical schools, it will be helpful to take a science major that is heavy in science requirements while you study for your bachelor’s degree. When you take courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physiology and more, you can show that you will be able to handle the medical school curriculum. You will have the option to space out the courses during your four-year career so that you are not stuck with a heavy load late in the program.

Prepare For and Take the MCAT

The MCAT, which stands for the Medical College Admissions Test, is extremely important when you apply to medical school. Admissions councils will review your test scores and your student record as an undergraduate to decide if you have the merit and the knowledge to pass medical school. Admissions are generally very competitive, so it is crucial that you prepare for the MCAT and schedule your exam date well before the admissions deadlines, according to Kaplan Test Prep.

Apply to and Complete Medical School

Once you have sufficient scores, you can start to apply to reputable medical schools. When you are applying, you must decide if you want to earn your Doctor or Osteopathic Medicine or Doctor of Medicine degree. They are similar, but when you take a D.O. program you will receive extra training on bones and muscles. You need to decide which training will lead to the highest earnings for you as a surgeon.

Complete Your Residency Program

Once you complete your classroom and clinical courses, the next step is to enter into a residency program. A surgical residency program can last anywhere from three to eight years, depending on where you want to specialize. It is important to choose a specialty and then review residency requirements before you can earn your license. After you complete the supervision period, you can then sit for your license so that you can practice in your state.

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The average salary for a general surgeon is $343,000 per year, but your salary could be much higher if you specialize in an area like orthopedic surgery, according to Forbes. It is very important to attend a very well respected school when you are studying to be a surgeon. You should meet with counselors, do homework on training programs, and really focus on school even as an undergraduate. If you are dedicated to school and you have what it takes to treat patients with invasive surgical methods, you can become a surgeon and enjoy what you do each and every day.

What are the attributes that I need to become a surgeon?

Successful surgeons possess specific characteristics and outlooks that contribute to fulfilling careers. Although a strong desire to become a surgeon is paramount, and the tenacity to persevere through ten or more years of formal training is essential, you must possess other attributes as well. Without them, a career in surgery may prove challenging and unrewarding.

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In addition to the ability to think on your feet, problem-solve and work well under high levels of stress, you must also be able to manage:

  • Crises and emergency situations.
  • Long and grueling hours.
  • Extended periods of absolute concentration without breaks.
  • Working with your mind and your hands.

You must also possess:

  • Physical dexterity. Although you can acquire a certain amount of dexterity through practice, some of it is an innate ability. If you have had difficulty with dexterity throughout your life, surgery may prove difficult for you.
  • Respect for the human body and human life. Although the field of surgery may provide you with a very comfortable lifestyle, to be successful, your primary motivation must be a love of and respect for the human body and human life. Without it, patients may see you as less than genuine and not trust you.
  • Love of anatomy. A thorough knowledge of anatomy is the foundation of surgery.
  • Intelligence. If you struggle with your studies despite putting in effort daily, you may benefit from submitting yourself for psychological assessment to ascertain if you have the intellectual capacity to become a doctor or a surgeon.

Basic Principles Applied in Surgery

Regardless of the surgical specialty, or type of surgery performed, every surgeon applies fundamental principles in the operating room. Because it contains innate properties, human tissue reacts to injuries in predictable ways. So, over time a set of guidelines evolved to promote optimal healing. Commonly referred to as the basic principles of surgery, every surgeon, regardless of specialty or type of surgery performed, follows them in the operating room.

  • Diagnosis and preoperative assessment. An incorrect diagnosis may result in inappropriate, ineffective and possibly unnecessary treatment.
  • The consideration of alternative non-surgical treatment modalities. Because most surgery is invasive, it should be the last resort.
  • Proper treatment planning. It is said that good surgeons always operate twice. They visualize and plan the operation mentally before doing the actual surgery. Assisting the surgeon in this planning process are tracings, computer assisted simulations, model surgery, etc.
  • Minimum invasion. When possible, consider alternatives to open surgery.
    • Scope-assisted surgery versus an open surgical procedure.
    • Interventive radiology/angiography.
    • Surgical procedures to the heart requiring the opening of the chest are being replaced in some instances by minimally invasive procedures performed by accessing the inside of an artery and performing the relevant procedure with radiographic (X-ray) assistance.
    • Good visual conditions. Surgeons must be able to clearly see the area they’re working on.
    • Exposure of the surgical site. This takes place when the surgical incision is made, and dissection is performed to reach the intended surgical site.
    • Retraction is the “pulling” away of tissue to offer the surgeon maximum exposure to the surgical site.
    • Surgical assistants and nursing staff have noted that successful surgeons always seem to complain about the light.
    • Suctioning and sponging. This is necessary to remove excess blood which may obscure the operative field.
    • Some noted physicians in history were handicapped by blindness, but not so with surgeons.
    • Handle tissue gently causing as little injury as possible. This amounts to having respect for the human body as well as an understanding of the processes involved in the repair and healing of wounds.
    • Proper control of bleeding within the limits of:
    • Minimal electrocautery.
    • Minimal suturing.
    • Minimal sponging.
    • Every action must be purposeful. For safety and economic reasons, in the operating theater, time is of the essence. Do not waste time in the OT.
    • Sterility and asepsis. All surgical instruments must be sterile (the complete absence of microorganisms), and the operative field must be as aseptic (minimizing and weakening microorganisms) as possible.
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Other principles applied are not surgical in nature, but are still critical to patient comfort, trust and confidence.

  • Anatomical considerations. A surgeon needs to have a detailed knowledge of the structure of the human body.
  • Physiological considerations. A surgeon must have a comprehensive understanding of how the human body functions.
  • Patient considerations. It’s critical for surgeons and members of the surgical team to take into account the fears and preconceived ideas of the patient about surgery and its outcomes.
  • Social. Certain diseases are more prevalent in specific socioeconomic groups than in others.
  • Religious. The transfusion of blood or transplantation of organs is a taboo in some religious groups.
  • Financial. What are the economic implications of the proposed operation to the patient/healthcare organization?
  • Expectations. What is the expected outcome and success of the procedure?
  • Communication. It is essential the patient understands the parameters, risks, and limitations of surgery and anesthesia. Providing information on scars and other conditions that may be present after surgery is necessary so that the patient is as prepared as possible for the operation and what may transpire when it is finished.
  • Information. This includes data about the proposed procedure and any alternatives. The patient must also be informed about any potential pain or discomfort that may be experienced, as well given pre- and postoperative instructions.
  • Implications. Will the patient be able to continue with normal activities e.g., studies/work/sport/hobbies? If not, will the condition be temporary or permanent? Does the patient need a medical certificate?
  • Complications. What can go wrong during and after the operation?
  • Prognosis. What is the success rate of the surgical procedure, and for how long will the benefits of the operation last?

Various Disciplines in the Field of Surgery

The American College of Surgeons recognizes multiple surgical specialties [1]. As you consider the type of specialty that is best for you, it’s helpful to review your available options.

  • General surgery is performed by surgeons trained to manage surgical procedures covering almost any area of the body. Within general surgery are subspecialties that include the following:
  • Colon and Rectal Surgery is also known as proctology. The focus is on the diagnosis and treatment of disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, pelvic floor dysfunction and colorectal cancer.
  • Ear, nose and throat surgery, also known as otolaryngology – diseases and disorders affecting the ears and structures within the respiratory system.
  • Maxillofacial and Oral surgery also includes dental surgery – treatment for patients with face, facial skeleton, mouth and related organs injuries, diseases and disorders.
  • Neurosurgery – disorders involving the brain and spinal cord. Read the Path to Becoming a Neurologist or Neurosurgeon.
  • Obstetrics and gynecology – medical and surgical care for pregnant patients, including the development of the fetus and disorders of female reproductive organs.
  • Ophthalmic surgery – diseases and disorders of the eye, vision, and contents of the eye socket.
  • Orthopedic surgery – anything having to do with the musculoskeletal system including bones, muscles, and joints. Subspecialties of orthopedics are:
    • Foot and ankle
    • Hand – includes upper extremities.
    • Joint replacement – mostly the hips and knees, but can include the ankles and shoulders.
    • Oncology – treatment for benign and malignant tumors of the musculoskeletal system.
    • Pediatrics – orthopedic conditions in children.
    • Spine – manages the care and treatment of back problems.
    • Sports – focuses on patients who are athletes and individuals suffering from athletic injuries.
    • Trauma orthopedics is a growing field. Patients are individuals with critical or multiple injuries to the musculoskeletal system.
  • Pediatric surgery – disorders for individuals still considered children, including teenagers. There are multiple subspecialties within this area.
    • Neonatal – newborn care.
    • Prenatal – fetal care.
    • Trauma – Because children take lots of risks and end up hurting themselves, pediatric surgeons frequently face situations involving traumatic injuries sustained by children.
    • Oncology – malignant tumors and benign growths.
  • Plastic and maxillofacial surgery – cosmetic procedures and the repair of body parts after the loss of tissue such as an ear. Thorough knowledge of the musculoskeletal system is critical.
  • Thoracic surgery – anything in the chest area, but primarily the heart and lungs.
  • Urology – manages benign and malignant medical and surgical disorders of the adrenal gland and the genitourinary system for both males and females.
  • Vascular surgery – treats diseases impacting the arteries and veins throughout the body. Hardening of the arteries may be the most common problem that vascular surgeons treat.
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Frontiers of Surgery

Medical science is always evolving. Doctors and researchers are continually looking for ways to minimize risk, pain, infection and healing time to patients. There are two types of surgery on the leading edge of medicine.

  • Robotic surgery. With the use of a camera and mechanical arms with surgical instruments attached to them, a surgeon can operate by sitting at a computer console. The console provides the surgeon with a magnified, three-dimensional view of the surgical site from which she or he controls the movement of the mechanical arms. The advantages of this technology include fewer complications, quicker recovery and smaller, perhaps less visible scars. As robotic surgery is refined, it’s possible that surgery can be performed on a patient who is a long distance away, including operations on astronauts in space or soldiers in the battlefield.

Healthcare Informatics, formerly known as The Institute for Health Technology Transformation (iHT2) commissioned a video featuring Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Arm device. Dr. David Samadi of Mount Sinai School of Medicine explains the arm and gives his thoughts on the future of robotic surgery.

  • Tissue engineering/regenerative medicine. Although regenerative medicine does not yet play a significant role in treatment, it has the potential of transforming how surgery is approached. According to the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the goal of tissue engineering is to develop,“biological substitutes that restore, maintain, or improve tissue function.” [2]. They developed a two-minute video on tissue engineering which you can see here:

Medical scientists can already grow specific types of tissue from the patient’s own cells, thereby avoiding the risk of rejection. The FDA has approved the use of artificial skin and cartilage, although their use in patients is still limited. The growing of an organ, such as a kidney from the patient’s own cells, appears to be just around the corner.

surgeonA mini bio-engineered human liver that can be implanted into mice. (Source: Sangeeta Bhatia, MIT)

How to Become a Surgeon

surgeon working

Becoming a surgeon can be a lengthy process. First you must earn a bachelor’s degree and then apply for medical school. Most medical schools do not specific a particular undergraduate degree, however we encourage you to earn degrees in the Sciences. you are required to take a entrance exam called the Medical College Admission test (MCAT). This is usually taken your senior year of college while earning your undergraduate degree; the higher the score the better chances you have. Once you are accepted into program you attend an additional fours years and then must complete a residency or fellowship training; this can last 3-10 years.

Medical school is very competitive therefore one most start focusing on academics early. High school students should take courses that focus on science and math; in addition to advance courses when possible. community service projects or volunteer work. This can increase your chances.For more information read the MCAT prep article on our free health career test.

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