If you want a short answer to the question, how long does it take to become a surgeon, the short answer is around 13 years, on average. It can take a little less or more, depending on the type of surgeon you become.
Of course, there is far more information needed to answer this question than just a number of years. Sure, you can look at it and decide this isn’t the career for you based on how long it takes. However, if you’re interested in becoming a surgeon, more information is required.
You probably want to know why it takes 13 or more years to become a surgeon. It’s likely you also want to know what is involved in becoming a surgeon. Let’s look at the steps to become a surgeon and some other important information about this career.
8 Steps to Becoming a Surgeon
1. Learn More About the Profession
Before you dedicate more than a decade of your life to training and education, it’s best to make sure you want to be a surgeon. Discovering what surgeons do, the different types of surgeons and the job description that goes with this career is important. Make sure you know you want to become a surgeon before you go down this career path.
Surgeons do more than just operate on people. They also meet with patients and their families. As a surgeon, you will also explain the procedures, take tests, book operating rooms, carry out rounds, and perform administrative duties.
If you’re serious about becoming a surgeon, you need specific skills including:
- Excellent communication skills
- Ability to work under pressure
- Decision-making skills
- Strong practical skills
- Excellent hand-eye coordination
- Leadership skills
- High professional standards
- Emotional resilience
- Ability to support your team
- Ability to inspire confidence
These skills are all very necessary for a surgeon. If you want to go down this career path, it’s important to work on developing these specific skills.
2. Do Extremely Well in High School
You will want to focus on science and math courses in high school. It’s important to do extremely well in high school. With a high GPA and high scores on the SAT or ACT, you can get into an excellent college or university.
This is very important as the better the bachelor’s program, the better chance you have to get into a great medical school. During high school, use an SAT or ACT prep course to ensure you score high. It’s also important to take as many honors and AP courses as you can, especially in science and math.
3. Get Your Undergraduate Degree
Your bachelor’s degree comes next. If you want to become a surgeon, you will need to make sure you take the prerequisites for medical school. These include chemistry, calculus, biology, genetics, and other courses.
Make sure you choose a major that will help your case for getting into medical school. Pre-medical courses will be necessary and you want to do as well as you possibly can. A high GPA will help your case for getting into a great medical school.
4. Score High on the MCAT
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is necessary for getting into medical school. You will likely take it during your final year in college. A good test prep course for the MCAT will ensure you get into a top medical school.
5. Complete Medical School
You will need to complete a four-year medical school program. This is the beginning of your medical training to become a surgeon. Medical school includes classes, lab work, and practicing medical techniques. You will learn many specialties, which can help you make the right decision when you graduate.
6. Complete a Residency Program
Along with medical school, you need to complete a residency program. This residency will allow you to work as a surgeon under the supervision of someone with experience. It’s common for surgeons to complete a residency in a specialty.
A residency program can take anywhere from three to eight years, depending on your specialty.
7. Pass the Medical Board Exams
You will need to gain your license as a doctor to become a surgeon. This means you have to pass the medical board exams. Make sure you’re prepared for these exams so you can pass the first time.
8. Complete a Fellowship
After your residency, you will likely need to complete a fellowship. This type of specialized training will allow you to choose an area of surgery. You may complete a fellowship in many different specializations including cardiovascular surgery, neurosurgery, or plastic surgery.
Common Surgical Specialties
You won’t need to choose your specialty until medical school or later. However, it’s a good idea to know your career path. Some of the common surgical specialties include:
- Neurosurgery – Working with the brain and spinal cord.
- General Surgery – Perform surgery in any area of the body.
- Otolaryngology – An ear, nose, and throat surgeon working with diseases impacting the ears and the respiratory system.
- Proctology – Colon and rectal surgery with a focus on disorders, such as pelvic floor dysfunction, inflammatory bowel disease, and colorectal cancer.
- Oral Surgery – Treating the facial skeleton, face, mouth, and related organs.
- Pediatric Surgery – Working with children and teenagers.
- Neonatal Surgery – Caring for newborn babies.
- Sports Surgery – Focusing on sports injuries.
- Obstetrics and Gynecology – Surgical care for pregnant patients.
- Orthopedic Surgery – Working with the musculoskeletal system.
- Ophthalmic Surgery – Caring for disorders and diseases having to do with the eyes and vision.
- Vascular surgery – Treating diseases impacting the veins and arteries.
- Plastic surgery – Handling cosmetic procedures.
- Thoracic Surgery – Caring for anything having to do with the heart, lungs, or chest area.
- Urology – Surgery having to do with the adrenal gland and the genitourinary system
There are other types of surgery that fall under one of these categories, too. Choosing a specialty is very important if you want to become a surgeon.
Types of Surgery Commonly Performed
As a surgeon, you will perform multiple types of surgery. Some of the most common types of surgery include:
- Laser Surgery
- Shockwave Surgery
- Open Surgery
- Scope Surgery
- Ultrasonic scalpels
These techniques are commonly used in surgery today. Depending on your specialty, you may use one more often than another.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Surgeon
What type of salary can I earn as a surgeon?
The type of surgeon you become will help to determine your salary. The average salary for a surgeon in the USA is about $373K per year. However, the location you work in, your specialty, and your experience level will help to determine your salary.
General surgeons are some of the highest-paid. They make an average salary of $374K per year. The lower end of the salary skill is around $264K and the high end is about $444K per year.
Neurosurgeons are typically the highest-paid surgeons. This specialty has an average salary of about $580K per year. The lower end of the scale earns around $306K per year and the higher end is around $734K per year.
Cardiothoracic surgeons earn an average salary of $449K making them some of the highest-paid surgeons. The lower end of the scale will be around $279K, while the highest-paid cardiothoracic surgeons earn around $563K per year.
If you choose the right specialty, you can earn a much higher salary compared to the average salary for all surgeons.
What are the working conditions and hours for surgeons?
As a surgeon, you will likely work nights and weekends, along with public holidays. Your schedule can be rather demanding and it won’t be a normal 9-to-5 workday. In some countries, you may be limited to a 48-hour workweek, but others don’t limit surgeons.
Working as a surgeon will put you in the operating room quite often. You will likely spend time on-call. It’s common for surgeons to spend many hours on their feet performing operations. It can also be a very emotionally draining career. When surgery doesn’t go as planned, the surgeon may have to speak with the family.
In the United States, it’s common to work from 40 to 60 hours per week. This won’t include on-call time, which could be required.
How do surgeons pay for medical school?
Schooling to become a surgeon is rather expensive. Most surgeons will pay for medical school with grants, scholarships, and financial aid. Federal loans are often necessary to afford medical school. It’s not uncommon for surgeons to graduate with a large amount of student loan debt to pay back.
If you’re considering becoming a surgeon, you want to make sure you understand how long it will take. It’s also important to know what you will be doing and how to become a surgeon. This is one of the highest-paying careers available but requires a huge commitment. You will study and work for around 13 years to become a surgeon.