Surgeon Job Description
The duties and responsibilities of a surgeon depend on training and expertise. In general, surgery is the investigation or treatment of injury, defect or disease using specialized knowledge and precision instruments. Hospitals and medical centers typically have a number of surgeons on staff, some of whom perform general surgery and others who specialize in treating a particular age group or part of the body.
The Chief of Surgery, also called the Head of Surgery, is a licensed, experienced physician who reports to top administrators. The Chief Surgeon manages hospital staff, department directors and physicians to ensure the highest standards of quality and service are met in each surgical department and in the facility as a whole. The Chief Surgeon plays a significant role in developing policies and goals for the institution. Management experience is essential for this demanding position. Fully half of the individuals currently serving as Chief of Surgery have more than fifteen years of experience.
The Lead Surgeon heads up a surgical team when more than one physician is required for a procedure. In any institution, the Lead Surgeon is not necessarily the same person each time. It depends on the procedure being performed and the expertise of the individuals involved.
Becoming a surgeon requires years of rigorous education. To start, you need to earn a bachelor's degree, preferably in one of the life sciences, chemistry, physics or mathematics. It's important to achieve a high grade point average (GPA), since medical schools typically accept applicants with an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.6. Admissions to medical schools are competitive. The successful applicant, in addition to a high GPA, usually needs a score of 510 or higher on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
Medical school takes four years to complete. The first two years consist of lecture and laboratory courses in advanced life sciences, medical ethics and practice and pharmacology. In the last two years, students complete clinical rotations through various medical specialties. By working with patients and licensed physicians in supervised clinical settings, future physicians gain real-world knowledge and experience they'll use in their own practices. They have an opportunity to explore different career options and use what they learn to make a decision about the specialty they want to practice.
After medical school, new physicians must obtain licensure in the state where they'll practice. They then undertake three or more years of specialty training, called a residency. The length of residency required depends on the specialty. Becoming a general surgeon requires a five-year residency. Thoracic surgeons, who focus on organs of the chest, must complete a general surgical residency and an additional two years in the specialty. Neurosurgeons, who focus on the brain and spinal cord, complete a one-year general surgery residency and five years of training in neurology. Plastic surgeons must complete a three-year residency in general surgery, and two years of training in plastic surgery. Some surgeons complete a post-residency training program, called a fellowship, if they want to specialize further in their surgical field. For example, a neurosurgeon might specialize in pediatrics, which is the treatment of infants, children and adolescence. A plastic surgeon may want to specialize in cosmetic surgery, which is elective, or reconstructive surgery, performed for patients who have birth defects or suffer from a deformity caused by trauma.
Surgeons work in hospitals, medical centers and outpatient surgical centers. Depending on the specialty practice, hours can be long and irregular. Cosmetic surgeons, for example, can schedule their patients during regular business hours. Trauma surgeons, on the other hand, may have to be available evenings, nights, weekends and holidays. Surgeons can spend much of their work day on their feet. They need excellent manual dexterity as well as good communications skills to work with team members in the surgical theater.
Surgeons usually have limited office hours to meet with patients and consult with other members of the healthcare team. The Chief of Surgery, as an administrator, spends significantly more time in an office and in meetings with physicians and management.
Salary and Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks data and makes projections for nearly every civilian occupation. The reported annual salary for physicians and surgeons as of 2017 was an average of $208,000 per year. According to the jobs website Salary.com, surgeons' salaries ranged from $322,568 to $452,703. Geographic location, employer, education, experience and special skills are all factors contributing to a wide range of surgeons' earnings.
The BLS predicts job growth for physicians and surgeons to be about 13 percent through 2026. That's faster than average when compared to all other jobs.