Surgeon Careers

A surgeon is a medical expert tasked with performing surgeries on human patients for the purpose of curing or alleviating some or other symptom or disease.

Surgeons, amongst other things, are responsible for examining patients and diagnosing them, reviewing their medical history so as to better craft a healing plan for them, advise patients and explain medical procedures to them and their families, prescribe medication before the surgery and for post op care, and follow through with patients, in order to monitor and maintain their recovery. They may also conduct research in order to advance the medical science and various surgical procedures and they may choose to specialise in a certain type of surgeries through further education and work.

A surgeon should have a medical degree, certification, and a license to practice medicine. They also need to have years of residency training and have to pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination. They must be able to keep calm under pressure and have great hand-eye coordination. Interpersonal skills are important, too. A surgeon, on average, makes $314,000 a year.

What Does a Surgeon Do

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They often counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.

There are two types of physicians, with corresponding degrees: M.D. (Medical Doctor) and D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). Both use the same methods of treatment, including drugs and surgery, but D.O.s place additional emphasis on the body's musculoskeletal system, preventive medicine, and holistic (whole-person) patient care. D.O.s are most likely to be primary care physicians, although they can be found in all specialties.

Duties

Physicians and surgeons typically do the following:

  • 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
  • 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

Physicians and surgeons work in one or more specialties. The following are examples of types of physicians and surgeons:

Anesthesiologists focus on the care of surgical patients and on pain relief. They administer drugs (anesthetics) that reduce or eliminate the sensation of pain during an operation or another medical procedure. During surgery, they are responsible for adjusting the amount of anesthetic as needed and monitoring the patient's heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing. They also work outside of the operating room, providing pain relief in the intensive care unit, during labor and delivery of babies, and for patients who suffer from chronic pain. Anesthesiologists work with other physicians and surgeons to decide on treatments and procedures before, during, and after surgery. 

Family and general physicians assess and treat a range of conditions that occur in everyday life. These conditions include anything from sinus and respiratory infections to broken bones. Family and general physicians typically have regular, long-term patients.

General internists diagnose and provide nonsurgical treatment for a range of problems that affect internal organ systems such as the stomach, kidneys, liver, and digestive tract. Internists use a variety of diagnostic techniques to treat patients through medication or hospitalization. They work mostly with adult patients.

General pediatricians provide care for infants, children, teenagers, and young adults. They specialize in diagnosing and treating problems specific to younger people. Most pediatricians treat common illnesses, minor injuries, and infectious diseases, and administer vaccinations. Some pediatricians specialize in pediatric surgery or serious medical conditions that commonly affect younger patients, such as autoimmune disorders or chronic ailments.

Obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYNs) provide care related to pregnancy, childbirth, and the female reproductive system. They treat and counsel women throughout their pregnancy and deliver babies. They also diagnose and treat health issues specific to women, such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, hormonal disorders, and symptoms related to menopause.

Psychiatrists are primary mental health physicians. They diagnose and treat mental illnesses through a combination of personal counseling (psychotherapy), psychoanalysis, hospitalization, and medication. Psychotherapy involves regular discussions with patients about their problems. The psychiatrist helps them find solutions through changes in their behavioral patterns, explorations of their past experiences, or group and family therapy sessions. Psychoanalysis involves long-term psychotherapy and counseling for patients. Psychiatrists may prescribe medications to correct chemical imbalances that cause some mental illnesses.

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. Although a large number perform general surgery, many surgeons choose to specialize in a specific area. Specialties include orthopedic surgery (the treatment of the musculoskeletal system), neurological surgery (treatment of the brain and nervous system), cardiovascular surgery, and plastic or reconstructive surgery. Like other physicians, surgeons examine patients, perform and interpret diagnostic tests, and counsel patients on preventive healthcare. Some specialist physicians also perform surgery.

Physicians and surgeons may work in a number of other medical and surgical specialties and subspecialties. The following specialists are some of the most common examples:

  • Allergists (specialists in diagnosing and treating hay fever or other allergies)
  • Cardiologists (heart specialists)
  • Dermatologists (skin specialists)
  • Gastroenterologists (digestive system specialists)
  • Ophthalmologists (eye specialists)
  • Pathologists (specialists who study body tissue to see if it is normal or abnormal)
  • Radiologists (specialists who review and interpret x rays and other images and deliver radiation treatments for cancer and other illnesses)

Physicians work daily with other healthcare staff, such as registered nurses, other physicians, medical assistants, and medical records and health information technicians.

How To Become a Surgeon

Physicians and surgeons have demanding education and training requirements. Almost all physicians complete at least 4 years of undergraduate school, 4 years of medical school, and, depending on their specialty, 3 to 7 years in internship and residency programs.

Education

Most applicants to medical school have at least a bachelor's degree, and many have advanced degrees. Although no specific major is required, all students must complete undergraduate work in biology, chemistry, physics, math, and English. Students also take courses in the humanities and social sciences. In addition, some students volunteer at local hospitals or clinics to gain experience in a healthcare setting.

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.

A few medical schools offer combined undergraduate and medical school programs that last 6 or 7 years.

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 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.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Physicians and surgeons need to be excellent communicators. They must be able to communicate effectively with their patients and other healthcare support staff.

Compassion. Physicians and surgeons deal with patients who are sick or injured and may be in extreme pain or distress. Physicians and surgeons must be able to treat patients and their families with compassion and understanding.

Detail oriented. Physicians and surgeons must ensure that patients are receiving appropriate treatment and medications. They must also monitor and record various pieces of information related to patient care.

Dexterity. Physicians and surgeons must be good at working with their hands. They may work with very precise and sometimes sharp tools, and mistakes can have serious consequences.

Leadership skills. Physicians who work in their own practice need to be effective leaders. They must be able to manage a staff of other professionals to run their practice.

Organizational skills. Some physicians own their own practice. Strong organizational skills, including good recordkeeping, are critical in both medical and business settings.

Patience. Physicians and surgeons may work for long periods with patients who need special attention. Persons who fear medical treatment may require more patience.

Physical stamina. Physicians and surgeons should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as lifting or turning disabled patients. Surgeons may spend a great deal of time bending over patients during surgery.

Problem-solving skills. Physicians and surgeons need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They need to do this quickly if a patient’s life is threatened.

Training

After medical school, almost all graduates enter a residency program in their specialty of interest. A residency usually takes place in a hospital and varies in duration, generally lasting from 3 to 7 years, depending on the specialty.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require physicians and surgeons to be licensed; requirements vary by state. To qualify for a license, candidates must graduate from an accredited medical school and complete residency training in their specialty.

All physicians and surgeons also must pass a standardized national licensure exam. M.D.s take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). D.O.s take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA). For specific state information about licensing, contact your state’s medical board. 

Certification is not required for physicians and surgeons; however, it may increase their employment opportunities. M.D.s and D.O.s seeking board certification in a specialty may spend up to 7 years in residency training; the length of time varies with the specialty. To become board certified, candidates must complete a residency program and pass a specialty certification exam from the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), or the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS).

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Average Salary
$328,629
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
7%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
11,388
Job Openings

Surgeon Career Paths

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Average Salary for a Surgeon

Surgeons in America make an average salary of $328,629 per year or $158 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $420,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $256,000 per year.
Average Salary
$328,629
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Best Paying Cities For Surgeons

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
Minneapolis, MN
Salary Range308k - 521k$401k$401,176
Fargo, ND
Salary Range303k - 499k$389k$389,372
Bangor, ME
Salary Range307k - 484k$386k$386,087
Buffalo, NY
Salary Range287k - 492k$376k$376,429
Saint Louis, MO
Salary Range275k - 491k$368k$368,114
Spokane, WA
Salary Range278k - 456k$357k$356,796
Boston, MA
Salary Range273k - 449k$351k$350,851
Erie, PA
Salary Range266k - 461k$351k$350,785
Hartford, CT
Salary Range269k - 450k$348k$348,391
Cleveland, OH
Salary Range259k - 453k$343k$342,954
Saginaw, MI
Salary Range259k - 446k$340k$340,042
Baltimore, MD
Salary Range255k - 444k$337k$337,039
Washington, DC
Salary Range254k - 443k$335k$335,491
Chicago, IL
Salary Range252k - 441k$334k$333,630
Greenville, MS
Salary Range248k - 446k$333k$333,032
Richmond, VA
Salary Range248k - 435k$329k$329,225
Dallas, TX
Salary Range243k - 436k$326k$326,301
Indianapolis, IN
Salary Range230k - 408k$306k$306,453
Atlanta, GA
Salary Range228k - 408k$306k$305,638
Omaha, NE
Salary Range222k - 386k$293k$292,997
$222k
$521k

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Surgeon Demographics

Gender

male

47.6 %

female

44.3 %

unknown

8.1 %

Ethnicity

White

80.4 %

Asian

9.6 %

Hispanic or Latino

5.5 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

37.0 %

French

13.0 %

Hindi

8.7 %
Show More Surgeon Demographics

Surgeon Education

Majors

Medicine
28.1 %
Nursing
10.9 %
Biology
7.5 %

Degrees

Bachelors

40.5 %

Doctorate

19.8 %

Associate

11.7 %

Top Colleges for Surgeons

1. Duke University

Durham, NC • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,695
Enrollment
6,596

2. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

3. Yale University

New Haven, CT • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,430
Enrollment
5,963

4. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI • Private

In-State Tuition
$15,262
Enrollment
30,079

5. Georgetown University

Washington, DC • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,104
Enrollment
7,089

6. University of California - Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$13,226
Enrollment
31,568

7. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC • Private

In-State Tuition
$8,987
Enrollment
18,946

8. University of Virginia

Charlottesville, VA • Private

In-State Tuition
$17,653
Enrollment
16,405

9. Columbia University in the City of New York

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$59,430
Enrollment
8,216

10. Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, MD • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,740
Enrollment
5,567
Show More Surgeon Education Requirements

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Palliative Care Always is a specialization for health care practitioners, patients and caregivers. We've designed this specialization to demonstrate how palliative medicine integrates with patient care, and to help you develop primary palliative care skills. Over the next five courses, you will develop skills in symptom management, goals of care and effective communication to improve the quality of life for patients and families suffering with serious illness. Our hope is that you feel increasin...

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Welcome to Trauma Emergencies and Care. In this course, you will learn about some of the mechanics and physics of trauma on the human body, and how this can cause injury. You will continue to expand your new vocabulary with medical terminology, and learn how to describe the different injuries you may see. You will also learn about the trauma system itself- and when it is important to transport patients to a trauma center. Then we will dive into specific injuries based on what part of the body ma...

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Top Skills For a Surgeon

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 11.9% of surgeons listed surgery on their resume, but soft skills such as communication skills and compassion are important as well.

  • Surgery, 11.9%
  • Healthcare, 11.1%
  • Emergency, 9.8%
  • Surgeons, 9.3%
  • Patient Care, 8.7%
  • Other Skills, 49.2%
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Best States For a Surgeon

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a surgeon. The best states for people in this position are Maine, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Vermont. Surgeons make the most in Maine with an average salary of $244,896. Whereas in North Dakota and Minnesota, they would average $243,343 and $241,347, respectively. While surgeons would only make an average of $239,249 in Vermont, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Maine

Total Surgeon Jobs:
103
Highest 10% Earn:
$299,000
Location Quotient:
2.54
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. North Dakota

Total Surgeon Jobs:
63
Highest 10% Earn:
$298,000
Location Quotient:
2.21
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Wisconsin

Total Surgeon Jobs:
418
Highest 10% Earn:
$297,000
Location Quotient:
2.47
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
Full List Of Best States For Surgeons

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Top Surgeon Employers

1. SIH
4.3
Avg. Salary: 
$326,892
Surgeons Hired: 
20+
2. Cleveland Clinic
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$333,773
Surgeons Hired: 
15+
3. Hays Medical Center
3.9
Avg. Salary: 
$358,701
Surgeons Hired: 
12+
4. University of Pittsburgh
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$195,797
Surgeons Hired: 
9+
5. VCU Health
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$355,767
Surgeons Hired: 
7+
6. Charles River Laboratories
4.8
Avg. Salary: 
$313,621
Surgeons Hired: 
7+