In the hearts of bustling hospitals, amidst the attentive cardiologists discussing treatment options, the diligent orthopedic specialists meticulously reviewing X-rays, and the astute neurologists conferring on diagnostic findings, lies the sanctum of surgical brilliance—the operating rooms. There, surgeons employ their expertise, methodically incising, extracting, suturing, and mending. These rooms are where medical science meets skilled hands to save lives.

If you’re intrigued by the intricate art and science of surgery and aspire to join this field, we encourage you to read on and learn more about how to become a surgeon as we explore all the steps and requirements.

What Is a Surgeon?

A surgeon is a highly skilled medical professional who performs intricate medical procedures on patients, primarily treating injuries or illnesses. These procedures may be conducted as preventive measures or as a crucial step in curing a specific disease. Surgeons often choose to specialize in particular areas of the body or focus on specific types of procedures.

What Does a Surgeon Do?

The specific responsibilities of a surgeon can vary considerably depending on their specialization within the field of medicine. Different types of surgeons focus on distinct body areas or specialize in specific procedures.

Despite these specialized areas of expertise, several fundamental responsibilities are commonly associated with surgeons across various disciplines. These include:

  • Engaging in comprehensive discussions with patients to assess and determine their symptoms
  • Collaborating with other healthcare professionals to accurately diagnose illnesses
  • Guiding patients regarding pre-and post-operative care, ensuring they are well-prepared for the procedure and recovery
  • Employing an array of surgical instruments and tools during operations, demonstrating precision and expertise in their usage
  • Thoroughly updating and maintaining accurate patient records, which include details about surgical outcomes and overall health status
  • Prescribing appropriate medication to support and facilitate the patient’s recovery process, tailored to their specific needs
  • Upholding a strict standard of sanitation within the surgical environment, which encompasses the meticulous use of surgical caps, glasses, masks, and gloves to minimize the risk of infections and ensure the utmost safety for both the patient and the surgical team

How To Become a Surgeon


There are several crucial steps you must complete to become a surgeon. It is a detailed process that involves thorough education and hands-on training. Here’s a detailed breakdown of each step:

Get a bachelor’s degree

On your path to becoming a surgeon, the first step is earning a bachelor’s degree. Generally, your undergraduate degree should be in a field related to pre-medicine, biology, or a similar discipline, including biology, chemistry, physics, and advanced mathematics courses, to help you gain a comprehensive understanding of the fundamental sciences that underpin the field of medicine as well as meet medical school prerequisites.

This period also offers opportunities for hands-on laboratory work, research projects, and clinical internships, allowing aspiring surgeons to apply theoretical knowledge in practical settings, further enhancing their grasp of medical principles.

Study and pass the MCAT

Typically, toward the conclusion of your junior year in undergraduate studies, it is advisable to schedule the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Alternatively, you may choose a time that best suits your schedule, provided you complete it before applying to medical school.

The MCAT is a standardized examination crafted to evaluate aspiring surgeons’ preparedness for the demanding medical school curriculum. It is a key element in the admissions process for the majority of medical schools in both the United States and Canada.

Complete a four-year medical school program

Following the completion of your undergraduate program and the successful completion of the MCAT, the next phase involves four years of intensive study in medical school. The initial two years typically revolve around coursework in core medical subjects such as anatomy, biochemistry, patient interactions, and pharmacology. In the latter half of medical school, you’ll engage in practical experiences through clinical rotations.

In parallel with your academic pursuits, you’ll initiate the process of obtaining your medical license by successfully passing the initial two sections of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Step 1 is usually taken between your second and third year of medical school, while Step 2 is completed in your fourth year.

Complete a medical residency program 

The next phase of your training to be a surgeon is residency. There’s a diverse range of surgery residencies to choose from, spanning general surgery to specialized areas like pediatric surgery, plastic surgery, neurological surgery, and more.

The duration of a residency program varies depending on the specific specialization. For instance, a general surgery residency typically spans 5 years, while more specialized fields like neurological surgery extend to 6 years, with one year dedicated to general surgery. 

By the end of your residency, you’ll transition to working with your patients and performing surgeries under the guidance and supervision of a licensed attending physician and complete step 3, the final step of the USMLE. This phase marks a significant step toward becoming an independent and proficient surgeon, signifying your readiness to apply for a medical license.

Secure a fellowship

While not obligatory, it’s a highly encouraged and immensely beneficial step for surgeons to pursue a fellowship in order to refine their expertise. A fellowship provides a unique opportunity for specialized training beyond the scope of a standard residency program. Typically lasting one to three years, these programs allow surgeons to explore specific subspecialties, such as cardiothoracic surgery, pediatric surgery, or surgical oncology.

During this time, fellow doctors work closely with renowned experts in their chosen field, gaining exposure to complex and advanced surgical techniques, as well as cutting-edge research. This intensive training develops their skills, refines their clinical judgment, and exposes them to cases often not encountered in general surgical practice.

Become licensed

For you to practice medicine, including surgery, in any state, it’s mandatory to possess a valid medical license. The application process involves submitting proof of your degree and successful completion of all three steps of the USMLE.

Keep in mind that certain states may have additional requisites, so it’s advisable to familiarize yourself with the specific guidelines before initiating the application.

Become board certified

Lastly, earning board certification is a significant milestone in a surgeon’s career, signifying a commitment to excellence and the highest standards of patient care. This voluntary process is widely recognized and highly regarded within the medical community.

Board certification thoroughly evaluates a surgeon’s knowledge, skills, and expertise in a specific medical specialty. This assessment encompasses written and oral examinations, along with a comprehensive review of the surgeon’s clinical practice and patient outcomes.

By pursuing board certification, you can showcase your dedication to professionalism, continuous learning, and the delivery of exceptional healthcare. This distinction will not only set you apart as a highly qualified specialist but also instill confidence in your patients and colleagues.

Essential Skills of a Surgeon

Surgeons are entrusted with the critical task of navigating intricate and often high-stakes medical scenarios. To excel in their duties, they must possess a comprehensive skill set encompassing hard and soft skills.

Hard skills

Surgeons are entrusted with the critical task of navigating intricate and often high-stakes medical scenarios. To excel in their duties, they must possess a comprehensive skill set encompassing hard and soft skills.

For example, the hard skills encompassing their technical expertise include the following:

  • Proficiency in a wide range of surgical procedures, including both common and complex operations
  • In-depth understanding of anatomy, physiology, and the pathology of diseases and conditions
  • Ability to accurately diagnose medical conditions and determine the most appropriate treatment plan
  • Precise motor skills and coordination for performing delicate surgical procedures
  • Capacity to plan and strategize surgical procedures, including considering potential complications and alternative approaches
  • Expertise in using various surgical instruments and equipment effectively and safely
  • Knowledge of proper sterilization techniques and infection control measures to maintain a sterile surgical environment
  • Quick thinking and action in emergencies, such as excessive bleeding or unexpected complications during surgery
  • Familiarity with advanced medical technologies and equipment used in surgery, including laparoscopic and robotic-assisted systems

Soft skills

Additionally, they must also have a series of interpersonal qualities like:

  • The ability to effectively convey information clearly and compassionately to patients and colleagues
  • The ability to remain calm and focused in high-pressure situations
  • Willingness to collaborate with other healthcare professionals, including nurses, anesthesiologists, and technicians
  • Commitment to upholding high ethical standards
  • The ability to adapt to new technologies, surgical techniques, and medical practices as the field evolves
  • Attention to detail
  • Capacity to analyze complex situations, make sound judgments, and formulate effective treatment plans
  • A high standard of professional conduct

Career Growth and Opportunities

The field of surgery offers promising career growth and abundant opportunities for aspiring surgeons, with the overall employment of physicians and surgeons projected to experience a 3% increase from 2022 to 2032. So, on average, about 24,200 openings for these professionals are anticipated each year over the decade. 

Moreover, this particular side of medicine has an array of career paths. Some may become general surgeons, adept at a broad spectrum of surgical procedures across different specialties. Others opt for highly specialized roles, delving into focused areas like orthopedic surgery, addressing musculoskeletal issues, or neurosurgery, which deals with intricate procedures involving the nervous system. 

Beyond clinical practice, surgeons can venture into research, advancing medical knowledge and pioneering innovative techniques. Some may find fulfillment in administrative roles, overseeing surgical departments or healthcare institutions. Additionally, the path of a medical writer or educator offers an avenue for surgeons to contribute to medical literature or educate the next generation of healthcare professionals.

The Financial Perspective

From a financial perspective, surgery as a career offers a lucrative pathway. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for surgeons and physicians as a collective group is estimated at an impressive $229,300.

However, it’s important to note that this figure can vary significantly based on the specific type of surgeon. For instance, pediatric surgeons specializing in surgeries for children command a substantial mean annual wage, estimated at $362,970. Similarly, orthopedic surgeons, experts in musculoskeletal procedures, boast a mean yearly wage of $371,400. These specialized fields often come with additional training and expertise, contributing to the higher earning potential.

Challenges and Considerations

Becoming a surgeon is a noble pursuit, but it’s no secret that such a field comes with challenges. From the rigorous educational path to the demanding work hours and high-stakes nature of surgery, the academic and professional side of it can be physically and mentally demanding.

However, it’s crucial to remember that you can overcome these challenges with determination, resilience, and a passion for medicine. The satisfaction of making a profound impact on people’s lives and contributing to advancements in healthcare outweighs the hurdles. 

With the right mindset and support network, aspiring surgeons have the potential to excel in this rewarding field and make a lasting difference in the world of medicine.

The Bottom Line

Surgeons stand at the forefront of life-altering interventions, meticulously wielding the scalpel between recovery and risk. A testament to their indispensable role is over a decade of immersive education and intense training, meticulously curated to instill them with unparalleled precision, profound knowledge, and a masterful command over the human body’s complexities.

If you’re driven by the desire to join their ranks and make a difference in healthcare, we invite you to explore our medical school. Join us and take the first step toward a future of saving lives.


How long does it take to become a surgeon?

It can take around 13-15 years of education and training, encompassing four years of undergraduate studies, followed by four years of medical school and a residency program lasting 5-6 years. 

How hard is it to become a surgeon?

Becoming a surgeon is undoubtedly challenging. The rigorous academic requirements, intense clinical training, and demanding residency programs require dedication, perseverance, and a strong work ethic. However, the work is fulfilling for those with a passion for medicine and a commitment to patient care as it helps prepare them for their future.

What is the best degree for a surgeon?

The best degree for a surgeon is typically an undergraduate degree in a pre-medical field since these programs provide the necessary foundation in the sciences to prepare for medical school. However, it’s important to note that medical schools accept applicants from various undergraduate majors as long as they meet prerequisite coursework.

Is the job of a surgeon stressful? 

Yes, the job of a surgeon can be highly stressful. These professionals often deal with life-and-death situations, complex procedures, and the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of their patients. However, many surgeons find the work immensely fulfilling and are driven by their commitment to helping others.

How to become a plastic surgeon

To become a plastic surgeon, one must follow a similar educational path as other surgeons. This includes completing a bachelor’s degree and four years of medical school. After medical school, a plastic and reconstructive surgery residency is required, and surgeons may choose to pursue additional fellowship training or directly apply for licensure.