How to Become a Surgeon | Steps You Need to Take Explained

If you are looking for information on how to become a surgeon, you have come to the right place. Surgery is one of the challenging yet rewarding careers.
It requires commitment, discipline, and even compassion when studying and practicing it.
In addition, it is one of the highest-paid professions in the world. You will spend most of your time treating patient’s deformities, conditions, and diseases through operations. You will also provide medications to patients so they can recover from the operation.
Due to the significant responsibility placed in a surgeon’s hand, they need to study very hard. If you are aspiring to be a surgeon, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree, take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), get a Medical Degree, complete a Residency program then obtain a license.

Surgeon Schooling

The first step to becoming a surgeon is to obtain a degree. You must complete undergraduate school In order to earn a bachelor’s degree focusing mainly on Chemistry, Mathematics, Anatomy, Biology and Physics classes.

The degree is required to join a medical school. You can also check the requirements of your medical school so as to be sure of the subjects to study.

Prepare for and take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). You will be required to do the MCAT test before joining any medical school. This is to ascertain if you have the needed knowledge to study medicine.

Prep books I have reviewed here will help you ace the MCAT.

If you want to become a surgeon, you must attend a medical school. This is where you will take courses related to surgery such as human anatomy, physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, preventive medicine, just to name a few.

Surgical residency is a must after completing medical school. You will work under the guidance of experienced surgeons. The last step is getting licensed. Before you work as a surgeon, you need to be licensed and certified.

doctor wearing surgical gloves

Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

Bear in mind that you need to obtain a bachelor’s degree and medical degree before you are qualified to operate on your patients. A bachelor’s degree is a 4 years course available in a wide variety of study areas.
The study areas include:

  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Surgical technology procedures, surgical health principles, healthcare delivery methods and many more

The ultimate goal of this degree is to prepare students for future studies in medicine. 

Bachelor of Science in Human Physiology

You will study the functions of the human body when you choose this major.  Subjects that you will cover include Physics, Biology, Chemistry and even mathematics.

It is a good degree for a student who wants to become a surgeon.


Bachelor of Science in Biology


The undergraduate major in Biology will serve as stepping stone for students who want to become a doctor, surgeon, psychiatrist, dentist or even physician. Biology is a life science that you will need to study.

The degree incorporates other important subjects such as pathology, ecology, genetics, anatomy, chemistry, and botany.

Bachelor of Science in Health Science

This is a degree program designed for students planning on applying to medical school. Some of the courses you will study in this degree include public health, health care economics, microbiology, health care quality management, etc.

health care

Enroll in Medical School

All surgeons must attend medical school. There are many medical schools in the United States. Some of the best places to study Surgery include Harvard University, Columbia University, Hopkins University, Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, Duke University, University of Cambridge and Emory University.

If you are interested in doing surgery, make sure you look for the best medical school. A good school will prepare you to be a general or specialized surgeon.

You can study Medical Doctor (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree.

University Of Cambridge

Its location is in the UK and has 4 major academic institutes:

  • The institute for Medical Research
  • The Cancer Research Institute
  • The MRC Institute of Metabolic Sciences
  • The institute of public health

You will study Surgery, Hematology, Radiology, and Psychiatry in their school of medicine.

Johns Hopkins University

This is one of the most renowned medical schools in the world. The famous neurosurgeon and writer Dr. Ben Carson, M.D. completed his residency here. He is one of the surgeons who have received much recognition for performing groundbreaking surgical procedures.

The department of surgery at John Hopkins University strives to deliver the highest quality of education. Students will also experience direct patient contact.

Columbia University

Students admitted here have the opportunity of studying many surgical specialties such as pediatric surgery, transplantation surgery, etc. Students will also come into contact with patients in their affiliated hospitals such as Stamford Hospital, Bassett Healthcare, etc.

Complete a Surgical Residency

Residency plays such an essential role in the field of surgery. The residency programs provide teaching and clinical experience that will enable medical graduates to become competent and qualified surgeons.

Here are more objectives of a resident program:

  •  Have the needed surgical knowledge and experience to be licensed and certified
  • Know the work ethic needed to be a great surgeon
  • Have the ability to participate in surgical research
  • Be able to Complete the needed surgical cases
  • Have the opportunity to pursue a fellowship
  • Timely completion of medical record responsibilities
  • Be Proficient in oral and written communication
  • Be okay with everything pertaining to patient care
  • Be able to respond to emergency medical or surgical care

In many resident programs, students are provided with high-level training and guidance from experienced and qualified surgeons.  You will study in the operating rooms mostly.

Patient care

taking care of patients

You will be needed to take care of your patients by learning how to identify sick patients that require additional intervention, how to develop care plans and learn how to diagnose surgical diseases in new patients.

In many programs, residents will rotate through different types of healthcare facilities such as a hospital, the veteran’s administration Hospital, a county hospital just to name a few.

Pursue Licensing and Board Certification

All 50 states in the USA require all surgeons to be licensed and certified before practicing their career. Requirements vary in each state though all will require you to have a bachelor’s degree, enrolled in medical school and complete a surgical residency.

To obtain your license, you will need to sit for the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE).  It is also recommended to be board certified in surgery. Board certification is administered by:

  • American Osteopathic Association for Dos
  • American Board of Medical Specialties for MDs

Gaining Professional Experience

Surgeons are required to work in surgery centers or clinics to gain experience. Clinical experience gives you a first-hand look into the daily life of a surgeon. You will diagnose and treat injuries or diseases through surgical operations.

This is what surgeons do on a daily basis:

  • Monitoring patients in intensive care
  •  Provide information regarding the risk associated with their surgeries
  • Perform surgical operations to treat diseases and remove tumors
  • Assist in educating the junior medical staff and clinical staff
  • Communicate effectively and maintain a good relationship with their patients
  • Assess patients and recommend treatments
  •  Issue discharge summary after their patients leave the hospital
  • Correct deformities
  • Keep a record of the past health history of patients after successful completion of operations

Surgical Operations

As a surgeon, it is your duty to plan, manage and schedule surgery for your patients. Depending on the illness or condition of your patient, you will decide on the right procedure for operation.

Patients will come to you from an accident, with a worsening health condition or could come from a hospital referral. They will put complete trust in you and it is your job to save and change their life.

It is worth noting that sometimes you will work long hours, daytime or night time. From your experience, you will learn that you can work from a variety of settings such as wards, accident, and emergency units, consulting rooms and operating theatres.

Choosing a Field and Specialty

There are so many disciplines in the field of surgery that you can specialize in. If you want to focus on 1 particular field and specialty, you have available options such as:

  • Ear, nose and throat surgery
  • Neurosurgery
  • Pediatric surgery
  • Colon and rectal surgery
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Ophthalmic surgery
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Cardiothoracic surgery
  • Oral and Maxillofacial surgery
  • Otolaryngology surgery
  • Plastic surgery
  • Academic surgery
  • Vascular surgery and many more
surgeons tool

Colon and rectal surgery, also known as Proctology

Colon and rectal surgeons diagnose and treat various diseases associated with the anal, intestinal tract and anal canal. Additionally, they can treat disorders associated with pelvic floor dysfunction and bowel disease.

Obstetrics and Gynecology

This is a surgeon who has been trained to provide surgical care to pregnant women, deliver babies and correct illness and diseases that affect the reproductive system.

Cardiothoracic Surgery

This is a specialty that deals with the organs within the chest such as the heart, esophagus, and lungs. Procedures tend to be minor to major involving heart failure surgery, congenital surgery, just to name a few.

Where could I be working?

Surgeons can work in a variety of settings. They may enter private, public practice or group practice. You can choose to work for the federal government in the military or veteran’s hospital.

You can work from a variety of places such as:

  • Private and public hospitals in Wards, accident, and emergency units Consulting rooms, operating theatres
  • Military services
  • Academic institutions
  • Ambulatory surgery centers
  • Organizations centers
  • Physician’s office

Private Practice

As a surgeon, you have the opportunity of working in private practice or even opening your own private medical practice. Some surgeons, who are now in private practice maintain complete control of their operational decisions, patient care, and revenue.

They are free to make their own decisions and be their own boss. However, bear in mind that there are upfront expenses, risks and some difficulties in starting your private practice especially if you are a beginner but that should not discourage you if you want to open one.

Public Practice

Public practice is a good setting to put your knowledge and skills to good use. A public hospital tends to be larger than a private hospital. As a surgeon working in a public hospital, you will be able to attend to a diverse population and learn a lot of things.

Surgeon Career opportunities

Surgeons and doctors can work in many areas. These are some of the surgeon career opportunities:

Anesthesiologists. They are the type of doctors that specialize in surgical patient care. They give drugs that offer pain relief during surgery or other medical intervention.

During the operation, the anesthesiologists make sure the right amount of anesthetic is given plus check the patient’s heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and body temperature.

They are also needed in the intensive unit and during childbirth to offer pain relief.

Anesthesiologists work with other doctors and surgeons to determine treatments and surgeries.

Family Doctors and general surgeons diagnose and treat a range of diseases and conditions.

doctor ready to operate

General surgeons do a wide variety of common surgical procedures, such as a breast biopsy, an appendectomy, a mastectomy, and a coronary artery bypass. Family doctors have long-term patients.

Unlike specialists, they treat each organ and every disease in both genders and all ages. They have a very good patient-doctor relationship which lasts for a very long time and will support all cycles of family life such as pregnancy, birth, surgery, acute and chronic illness.

General pediatricians specialize in pediatric surgery or serious illness that affects children such as chronic diseases. They will treat the disease, deformity or condition through operation.

Colin Ma

As the first hire of Study Prep Lounge I primarily help with growth strategy, but also assisted with managing our small team of writers and designers. Another aspect of work I've taken up is writing and I thoroughly enjoy it! I grew up in Arcadia, CA, and went to school at University of California, Santa Barbara before transferring to University of California, Irvine where I got my BS in Computer Science. I am currently working full time in software and am also fulfilling my prerequisites so I can apply to Medical School.

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