General surgery is a medical field that deals with the preoperative, operative, and postoperative care of patients with a broad spectrum of diseases. General surgeons are medical specialists who are trained in performing a variety of surgical procedures. They often work alongside a team of nurses, anesthesiologists, and other surgical specialists. Surgical treatments involve making complex decisions, due to which general surgeons should be competent in accurately diagnosing as well as managing surgical treatments. All surgeons are first trained in general surgery, and can then choose to specialize in any of the different general surgery specialities.

In this article, we explore the medical branch of general surgery and what it takes to become an expert in the field.

What Does a General Surgeon Do?

Some surgeries might require a surgical specialist in a particular field, such as a neurosurgeon, but not all. This is where general surgeons come in.

General surgeons are trained in the overall surgical process, from the first checkup to the preparation of the surgery, performing the surgery, and providing post-operative care. They can handle all types of general surgery, like:

  • the digestive tract
  • the abdomen
  • the skin and soft tissue, including breasts
  • the head and neck
  • the blood vessels and heart
  • the endocrine system (hormones and glands)
  • surgical treatment of cancer
  • surgical management of traumatic injuries
  • critically ill patients with surgical needs

General surgeons have the technical knowledge about:

  • the body’s structure and function
  • how wounds heal
  • how blood flows and clots
  • the body’s immune system
  • infections and antibiotics

When is a General Surgeon Required?

General surgeons are required under many circumstances. For example, if a consulting physician believes that non-surgical treatments are not working for a patient, a general surgeon may be referred. General surgeons are highly skilled and experienced in dealing with common abdominal issues such as appendicitis, hernias, gallbladder surgeries, stomach, and intestinal issues.

Some may specialize in a type of general surgery, such as cancer or burns, which requires expertise in performing surgeries on multiple areas of the body.

General surgeons are required when elective surgery is the prescribed course of treatment. Elective surgery, such as tonsillectomy and hemorrhoidectomy, is surgery scheduled in advance or as recommended by the consulting doctor.

General surgeons are required during a medical emergency, such as treating gunshot wounds or trauma caused by a life-threatening accident.

What Kind of Education Do General Surgeons Have?

The road to becoming a general surgeon starts in medical school. Students graduate with an MD degree, officially making them physicians, and then complete five years of surgical residency before applying for board certification. The five years of residency include one year of internship and four years of surgical training. During their training, general surgeons are required to complete 48 months of full-time clinical activity. Post their training, the surgeon can then choose to either practice as a general surgeon or pursue a surgical speciality with several more years of training.

To be able to practice as a general surgeon, a physician must:

  • undergo at least five years of residency in an accredited program
  • pass the General Surgery Qualifying Examination
  • pass the General Surgery Certifying Examination

Because general surgeons treat a wide variety of people and conditions, they possess a unique set of skills and knowledge. In some cases, the general surgeon treats patients with problems in other fields such as obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, urology, etc. While being a surgeon in a specific field requires additional training in that particular field, general surgeons are a very important part of a patient’s healthcare team. They have the flexibility to work in different settings with many different types of medical specialists. They are essential in the treatment of common illnesses that need surgical intervention.