General surgeons perform operations to treat or prevent diseases, repair damage caused by injuries, correct deformities, and improve the functions of the human body. These medical doctors remove gallbladders and appendixes, and do colonoscopies and thyroidectomies. Other procedures range from cosmetic surgery to organ transplants.

Though qualified to operate on all parts of the body, surgeons often choose a speciality. Brain surgeons earn the highest salaries. Others specialize in treating the abdomen, alimentary tract, endocrine system, and soft tissue. There are surgeons who remove cancerous tumors, treat burns, and perform vascular surgery. Other options include orthopedics, cardiovascular surgery, plastic surgery, pediatrics, and treating obesity with lap-bands and bariatric surgery.

Becoming a general surgeon entails many years of education and training. Most surgeons work in hospitals. Others provide their services in their own offices, group practices, or clinics. This is an extremely demanding profession that requires long, irregular hours. It also is among the best-paying positions in health care, with a strong job outlook. The biggest rewards come in the satisfaction of helping people, and perhaps saving their lives.

The general surgeon job description includes:
  • Diagnose internal injuries and diseases, and prescribe medication or surgery;
  • Order and analyze tests like X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs;
  • Decide whether surgery is warranted, based on the patient’s records, tests, and examinations;
  • Perform examinations to confirm that patients are strong enough to undergo surgery, explain the procedures, and discuss the risks involved;
  • Determine the type of surgery that is needed, and the nurses, anesthesiologists, specialists, and others who will be required;
  • Order antibiotics, special diets, sedatives, and other prescriptions for pre- and post-operative treatment;
  • Schedule operations, coordinate the staff, plan the procedures, and order instruments and other supplies;
  • Perform operations, in accordance with accepted methods;
  • Create and update patient records;
  • Consult with and assist other doctors;
  • Refer patients to specialists and other professionals;
  • Take part in research studies involving surgical techniques;
  • Receive continuing education

General Surgeon Prerequisites

To be a general surgeon, you literally need to have a steady hand. Good eye-hand coordination is crucial, as patients’ lives may be at stake. You must develop the ability to perform well under pressure. The stress, especially for surgeons who work in emergency wards, can be severe. You need to be calm, confident, and reassuring.

This is a physically demanding profession. Surgeons are required to stand for hours. They have to be mentally focused and fully alert at all times, while dealing with challenging and demanding circumstances. Hospitals are not particularly healthy places to work. In addition to being exposed to infectious diseases, surgeons spend all their time indoors with artificial lighting.

The working hours are notoriously long. You may be called upon in the middle of the night to perform an emergency operation. Consider the impact this career could have on your life and family.

How to Become a Surgeon

Becoming a general surgeon is expensive, and the process takes many years. Before you even start on this path, you need an undergraduate degree from a four-year college or university. If you know you want to pursue a career in medicine, major in a science. Take biology, chemistry, and physics. Pre-med undergrads are also expected to complete courses in math and English. Humanities and social-science studies are recommended. Consider getting practical experience while in college by volunteering at a hospital or clinic.

With your bachelor’s degree in hand, you can take the Medical College Admission Test. Successful completion of the exam is required for admittance to a four-year medical school. Make sure the universities on your list are accredited schools of medicine or osteopathy. You may have to reach out to multiple medical schools because of the competition among applicants. Good undergraduate grades, as well as letters of recommendation, can make the difference between being accepted or rejected.

During your first two years in medical school, you will take courses in anatomy, neurology, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology, and other subjects. In the third year, you will get experience in various specialties by working in clinics. More surgical rotations, as well as elective courses, are featured in the final year.

Following completion of medical school, you must fulfill internship and residency requirements. Depending upon your speciality, this can take three to eight years. You will gain experience by assisting with surgical procedures, and helping patients before and after operations. This process exposes students to an array of surgical specialties. The different specialized area of study includes anesthesiology, critical care medicine, infectious diseases, psychiatry, preventative medicine, urology, and neurology.

General Surgeon Certification

Laws in every state require surgeons to be licensed. First, you have to perform an internship as a surgical resident, then pass a written test. Either the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination is generally administered.

You must provide evidence that you have received the required education and training. Your degree from an accredited medical school is the key document.

For details about how to apply for certification, consult your state medical-licensing board’s website.

General Surgeon Salary

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General Surgeon Job Description Summary

Here is a short recap of the general surgeon job description:
  • Perform operations to treat or prevent diseases
  • Work with other specialists and nurses
  • 4 year bachelor’s degree
  • 4 year medical school program
  • 3 to 8 additional years of residency program
  • Must be licensed to practice
  • 18% employment growth by 2022