Surgeons are specialty physicians who treat illnesses and injuries in the operating room. Although surgery is their defining role, like other physicians, surgeons also interview and advise patients, give physical exams and interpret medical tests. They can choose to work as general surgeons or in a sub-specialty, such as plastic surgery or cardiovascular surgery. The career is challenging, and surgeons need specific mental, physical and interpersonal characteristics and a strong character.
Superior academic ability, especially in science subjects, is essential for surgeons to complete pre-med undergraduate college, four years of medical school and a minimum five years of residency to qualify for general surgery. To become a surgical specialist, physicians must complete an additional one to four years of residency. Surgeons need academic staying-power to concentrate on their education for so many years.
Other Mental Characteristics
Surgeons must have the ability to multitask, for example, to keep on top of the various physical and technical aspects of an operation, including watching the patient's vital signs. Surgeons should be superior problem-solvers with the ability to find solutions in the thick of the action. If unexpected bleeding occurs, for example, surgeons must be able to stop it before it becomes life-threatening.
Surgeons need strength and stamina to work long hours and stand during extended surgeries. In addition, they need superior manual dexterity and the ability to cut accurately with surgical tools without harming patients. Clear vision is also necessary to cut and stitch patients properly.
Surgeons must be superior communicators to collect accurate patient histories, answer questions and communicate what patients should do before and after surgery. They need the ability to explain instructions clearly to other healthcare workers in their office and the operating room. Teamwork skills are essential to operate efficiently with the help of nurses, anesthesiologists and surgical technicians.
Surgeons should be eager to conquer new challenges, learn new technologies and continually develop their skills, because the field of surgery is constantly advancing. They must be leaders, willing to accept complete personal responsibility for patient outcomes. Especially in the operating room, surgeons must be cool and level-headed. At the same time, surgeons need compassion for other people, along with humility, to be truly effective. Although they must stay calm under pressure, they should feel energized by the excitement of helping others.
2016 Salary Information for Physicians and Surgeons
Physicians and surgeons earned a median annual salary of $204,950 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicians and surgeons earned a 25th percentile salary of $131,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $261,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 713,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physicians and surgeons.