There are many types of surgeons. A general surgeon has a broad understanding of the human body and operates on the abdomen, breast, endocrine system, alimentary tract and other parts of the body. Some general surgeons work in private practice, and others work in an emergency room to perform surgery for trauma-related accidents.
Given the wide scope of knowledge required, a general surgeon must earn an undergraduate degree and a medical degree and complete a residency and possibly even a fellowship to gain additional specialized experience.
Take Rigorous Classes in High School
The classes that you take in high school will help prepare you for college. Take as many science and math classes as possible to gain a foundation for a pre-med degree. Classes like chemistry, calculus, statistics, physics and biology are optimal courses to pursue. If you can take any of these as Advanced Placement or Postsecondary Option classes, you’ll further enhance your academic preparation.
Focus on the Hard Sciences in College
Before you can begin your surgeon degree, you’ll need to go to college. Consider a degree in the hard sciences to provide the best foundation for medical school. It’s important to meet with a pre-med academic adviser to ensure that you’re including the necessary courses. Expect to take classes like organic chemistry, physics, biology and other science electives.
Prepare for the MCAT
Use the classes that you take in college to help you prepare for the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT. If you take the coursework seriously, the knowledge that you gain will provide a framework for your study plan. You may also want to take a test prep course or form a study group to further your readiness for the test.
Experience Is Key
Look for volunteer and paid opportunities to learn more about the medical school. Spend time shadowing different types of surgeons to gain more specific insight about the daily work in this position. If you’re looking for a part-time job in college, consider earning your Emergency Medical Technician certification or become a Certified Nursing Assistant.
Earn a Medical Degree
Once you’re admitted to medical school, you’ll spend four years in courses, observation and practical experience. Expect to take classes like immunology, neuroscience, biochemistry, embryology, anatomy and physiology.
Two years of medical school will be spent in academic classes and two years in clinical observation and experience. Clinical experience will help you learn more about various specialties and the practical aspects of medicine.
Obtain a Surgical Residency
Once you finish your medical degree, you’ll move on to a five-year general surgical residency. A residency will be a time-intensive experience that will help you learn the practical side of medicine. In addition to learning from different types of surgeons, you’ll see patients and perform surgical procedures. Following your residency, you’ll take the medical board exams and become a fully licensed surgeon.
Pursue a Surgical Fellowship
If you have a particular surgical interest and want to learn specialized skills, consider applying for a surgical fellowship. Most fellowships are one year in length and provide a unique opportunity to practice medicine and research alongside other experts. Common surgical fellowships include colon and rectal, critical care, surgical oncology, breast and endocrine.
Consider the Surgeon Salary and Job Trend
Salaries vary based on location and specialty. The mean annual surgeon salary was $255,110, or $122.65 per hour, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018. Salaries are higher in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Utah, South Dakota and South Carolina. Surgical specialties may significantly increase this salary. The job outlook indicates a 13 percent increase in available surgical positions between 2016 and 2026.
Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.