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How to Become a Surgeon

Two Parts:Become a SurgeonChoose a Field

Surgeons are physicians who specialize in invasive medical treatments that involve cutting open the human body to treat certain illnesses, physical conditions, and injuries. Surgeons are among the most highly educated and well-paid professionals in the United States, making surgery a very desirable and sought-after career.

There will continue to be a large demand for surgeons and other medical professionals in the coming years as populations continue to grow. Read this article to learn how to become a surgeon.

Part 1
Become a Surgeon

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    Graduate from high school or pass the GED (General Education Development) exam. This is the first step on the road to becoming a surgeon. While in high school, pay special attention to science subjects like biology, physiology, chemistry, and physics. How you perform in these types of classes early on will help you determine whether a career in medicine is the right choice for you.
    • Take the SATs, the required standardized test for college admission, your junior year and apply to various colleges and universities to increase your likelihood of acceptance. Improve your scores by taking an SAT prep course or hiring a private tutor to help you study.

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    Get a bachelor's degree. While there is no particular major requirement for medical school, you should choose a science-related major and complete coursework in physiology, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and English.[1] Try to space out your pre-med courses over the course of four years so that you can devote enough time to each one and maximize your performance.[2]
    • When possible, get to know your professors on a personal level, as you may be asked to provide letters of recommendation when applying to medical school.[3]
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    Take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). Your score on this test, as well your college transcripts, will determine whether and where you are accepted to medical school.[4] Once you have completed the test, apply to various medical schools, taking into consideration their reputability, location, and cost. Send your test scores, transcripts, and any additional required materials to the admissions offices of the schools you are applying to.
    • Some schools also require letters of recommendation from either your professors or previous employers,[5] and others require interviews prior to acceptance.
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    Complete medical school. Most programs take four years to complete, and will earn you either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). During the first two years, students study anatomy, biochemistry, psychology, medical ethics, and other subjects in classroom and laboratory settings.[6] During the second two years, students get more hands-on experience treating patients under the supervision of medical professionals.[7]
    • M.D.s and D.O.s receive very similar education and training, and perform most of the same duties as doctors, but D.O.s receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system, or the system of bones and muscles in the body.[8] They also take different licensure examinations after completing medical school and residency programs.
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    Complete a residency program. Once you have graduated from medical school, you will need to complete a surgical residency program in a specialized area. Residencies vary in duration, lasting from 3 to 8 years, and involve working in hospitals and treating patients under the supervision of other doctors.[9]
    • Residency programs focus on different specialized areas of study, including anesthesiology, critical care medicine, infectious diseases, psychiatry, preventative medicine, urology, and neurology.[10] These programs vary in duration depending on which subject you choose to specialize in.
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    Get licensed. Every state requires that surgeons and physicians be licensed, but specific requirements vary between states. Eligibility for licensure requires having completed medical school and a residency, and passing written and practical exams.[11] You will also need to pass one of the following national standardized licensure examinations:
    • M.D.s must take the US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).[12]
    • D.O.s take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA). Many D.O.s also take the USMLE though this is optional for DO medical students.[13]

Part 2
Choose a Field

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    Decide what type of surgeon you want to be. There are many different types of surgery that a physician can focus on. Your experience during the first two years of medical school will help you narrow down your focus to one specialized area of study. Consider the following examples of different types of surgeons:
    • Cardiac surgeons focus on the heart and cardiovascular system, performing surgical treatments for a variety of conditions including atherosclerosis and congenital heart disease.
    • General surgeons focus on the abdominal area, treating conditions of the appendix, colon, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and more.[14]
    • Orthopedic surgeons focus on surgical treatment of musculoskeletal conditions affecting the bones, joints, and ligaments. These include spinal disorders, sports injuries, trauma, and bone tumors.[15]
    • Neurosurgeons focus on the surgical treatment of neurological conditions.[16] They typically complete five to six years of residency training, and perform surgery on the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.[17]


  • Medical school can be very expensive. Tuition varies between institutions, and many students take out loans in order to pay for the costs of school.
  • If you are dissatisfied with your MCAT scores the first time around, take the test again before applying to medical school. This will increase your likelihood of acceptance.
  • Start early. Being a surgeon is a really long road.
  • In addition to their extensive knowledge, expertise, and training in medicine, surgeons should also have strong communication skills, be detail-oriented, have strong manual dexterity, and be empathetic.[18]

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