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Surgeons are physicians who use many different types of instruments and techniques to correct physical problems, treat patients who have suffered trauma or internal injuries, or perform preventative surgeries. Surgeons examine patients, obtain medical histories, and determine if surgery is necessary. They also advise patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. While most surgeons perform general surgery, some specialize in a particular area of treatment. Some of the more common surgical specialties include:
- Neurological surgery
- Orthopedic surgery
- Plastic surgery
- Reconstructive surgery
If you have your sights set on a career in surgery, you'd better have the emotional stability to make life or death decisions quickly. You should have a good bedside manner, ambition, and a thorough knowledge of medical procedures. Being a surgeon is a demanding career that requires long hours and intense preparation, so mental and physical stamina is a must.
Surgeons are well paid for their efforts. As of May 2008 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that surgeons earned a median annual salary greater than $166,400. Factors influencing income include experience, geographic region, work schedule, skill, personality, and professional reputation.
Training and Education
Surgeons face some of the toughest educational requirements of any profession, combining four years of undergraduate school, four years of medical school, and three to eight years of residency. While some schools offer programs that allow you to complete your undergraduate and medical education in six years, such programs are highly competitive and intensive in nature. Admission to medical school requires a strong background in physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics. Because admission to medical school is competitive, a strong record of coursework in the humanities or social sciences as well as volunteer experience in hospitals or clinics is often necessary.
The medical school portion of a surgeon's training encompasses a wide range of health-related instruction in both formal classroom and laboratory environments. Common medical school courses include:
- Laws governing medicine
- Medical ethics
After graduation from medical school, surgeons face still more training. For the next few years, surgeons learn on-the-job as residents. Surgeons must be licensed to practice medicine. While licenses are given after you complete medical school and pass an examination, surgeons may spend more years training for certification in one of 24 recognized specialties.
In 2008, physicians and surgeons not classified with other specialities by the Bureau of Labor Statistics held about 262,850 jobs. While many surgeons are self-employed in a private practice, others worked in the following medical environments:
- Colleges, universities and professional schools
- Federal, state, and local governments
- Outpatient care centers
- Physician's offices
- Private colleges, universities and professional schools
The big picture shows that opportunities for individuals interested in becoming surgeons are expected to be very good. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physicians and surgeons is expected to increase by 14 percent through 2016, which is faster than the national average for all occupations. The best opportunities should be in such disciplines as general or family practice, internal medicine, OB/GYN or in rural or low-income areas. New technologies--think electronic medical records, test and prescription orders, billing, and scheduling--should increase productivity and improve the professional atmosphere.
About the Author
Kelly Richardson covers the local education and technology scenes in major cities across the country. His articles appear in a variety of respected educational journals, periodicals, and e-zines.