The road to becoming a surgeon in not that different from that of other physicians. The main difference is the length of time depending on what type of surgeon you want to become. Here is a basic outline of the amount of time it takes to complete a General Surgery Residency, what each step entails, as well as the additional time it may take to complete a fellowship.
Bachelor’s Degree: 4 Years
To read more detailed info about how to get into medical school, read our blog post- Pre-Med: How Do I Get Into Medical School.
Here are the most important points:
- You can be pre- med or major in whatever you like as long as you take the pre-requisite science courses.
- Maintain a science GPA >3.5 and a cumulative GPA >3.5
- Score well on MCAT Exam
- Shadow Physicians
- Do Community Service
- Join Clubs & Assume Leadership Positions
- Apply to medical school
Medical School: 4 Years
Medical school is divided into 2 years of basic sciences where you study courses such as biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, and much more, and 2 years of clinical rotations where you work in different medical fields such as: Obstetrics & Gynecology, Surgery, Psychiatry, and Family Medicine.
Here’s an outline of what your goals should be during the 4 years of medical school if you intend on pursuing a career in surgery.
Year 1 & 2 Goals:
- Receive great grades in your basic science courses
- Shadow different surgeons to get a better idea of what type of surgery you’re interested in & to build relationships with surgeons for future Letters of Recommendation
- Do Research
- Join Clubs / Interest Groups & Assume Leadership Positions
- Do community Service
- Do well on STEP 1 Board Exam. The goal is to score at least a 220.
Year 3 Goals:
- Honors (Get an A in) the majority of your clinical rotations. It is especially important to Honor your Surgery rotation.
- Be a proactive, intelligent, and hard-working student.
- Get to know Attending Physicians well so you can ask them for Letters of Recommendation.
- Do well on STEP 2 CK Board Exam. The goal is to score higher than what you scored on STEP 1
- Pass STEP 2 CS Board Exam
Year 4 Goals
During your 4th year of medical school you have a lot more control over what clinical rotations you do. As a result, most people tend to choose 4th year electives that pertain to the field that they are going into.
- Away Rotations
- Away Rotations are AKA Audition Rotations because you are essentially auditioning for a residency spot at this program for 1 Month.
- The hospitals that you audition at can be as close as a different hospital within the same city or as far as a hospital in a different state.
- It is not necessary to do these rotations, but some students find them to be useful.
- I will do a full post about away rotations soon.
- Surgery Acting Internships
- Acting internships are usually done in the field that you plan on applying to. During an acting internship you are essentially “acting like an intern”. You are expected to assume more responsibility than a 3rd year student. This is a time to show that you have what it takes to be a surgery intern, and its a great time to learn more about your field of interest.
- Electives give you the opportunity to explore either a sub-specialty of surgery such as pediatric or plastic surgery, and it also allows you to learn more about fields that you interact with often as a surgeon such as Radiology or Emergency Medicine.
- Electives can also be used to do research or simply explore a completely different field that you’re interested in.
- During my 4th year I did Trauma Surgery, Plastic Surgery, Radiology, and Research electives
- Interview Season
- Interview season is from September to February of your 4th year . During this time you travel to all of your interviews in various cities and states. Your goal is to put your best face and foot forward during these interviews and show them why you belong at their program.
You did it! You finished Medical School! Play time is over. Now you are officially a surgery resident!
General Surgery Residency – 5 years
- After completing medical school you officially have the title of Physician. However, this is simply the beginning. There is still a world of information that you have yet to learn and a few more exams to take.
- STEP 3 Exam
- This is the last STEP Board Exam, and it is normally taken sometime during your first two years of residency. This exam is necessary to get your full medical license.
- ABSITE Exam
- This is the Surgery In-Training Exam, and it is taken every year of surgery residency in January. It is used by program directors to assess your surgical knowledge and to assure that you are progressing at an adequate pace.
- Scoring well on this exam is vital, especially if you intend on applying to a fellowship program.
- Most surgeons work 80+ hours per week during residency to assure that they learn as much as possible.
- Resident Physicians work underneath Attending Physicians to learn and master their craft. An attending physician is someone who has completed residency and is well-versed in their field. They teach residents how to be competent physicians.
- Surgery Residents will rotate through various fields of surgery such as, plastic surgery, pediatric surgery, burns, surgical oncology, and vascular surgery to name a few.
- During this time, many residents find that they favor one of these specialties, and they may decide that they want to specialize in that particular field. Some residents decide not to specialize and simply practice General Surgery after completing residency.
- To become a board certified surgeon you must take 2 Exams:
- General Surgery Qualifying Exam
- General Surgery Certifying Oral Exam
- In order to specialize you can do a fellowship in which you train only in that specialty. Many fellowships are competitive to get into, and as a result, general surgery residents may do research in their specialty of choice to show their commitment to that particular field. For extremely competitive fields such as Pediatric Surgery some general surgery residents may even take a break from their clinical residency to only do research for an additional 1-2 years.
Surgical Specialty Fellowship – 1-3 Years
There are many surgical specialties and fellowships to choose from and each takes a different amount of time to complete. There is also a Board Certification Exam for each specialty.
There are different ways of becoming each type of specialized surgeon besides what is described above. Feel free to do more research on the surgical specialties that interest you.
- Breast Surgery (1 year)
- CardioThoracic Surgery (2-3 years)
- Colon & Rectal Surgery (1 year)
- Hand Surgery (1 year)
- Minimally Invasive Surgery (1 year)
- Pediatric Surgery (1-2 years)
- Plastic Surgery (3 years)
- Surgical Critical Care (1 year)
- Surgical Oncology (1-2 years)
- Transplant Surgery (1-2 years)
- Vascular Surgery (1-2 years)
Though this is a very long process, it is 100% worth it if surgery is the only job you can see yourself doing. Remember, If you love your job, you never have to work a day in your life.