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How to Become A Surgeon

Surgeons are medical personnel responsible for performing operations that are invasive in nature and involve cutting open the human body for the treatment of illnesses, diseases and injuries. These individuals are among some of the most highly educated and well-paid professionals in the country. As population grows, the demand for these professionals is expected to continue to rise for a long time in the future.

The process of becoming a surgeon is tough, given the nature of the profession. Here is how to become a surgeon.

Get a High School Diploma or a GED

In high school, you might want to pay extra attention to subjects such as biology, physics and chemistry. This will help in forming a strong base for your future medical studies.

Get a Bachelor’s Degree:

Even though there is no particular major requirement at the bachelor level, you should ideally choose a science-related concentration. Try and take courses in subjects such as biology, mathematics, chemistry, physiology and so on. For your pre-med courses, try and space them out over the four years so that you can give sufficient amount of time to each of them.

Take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test):

This is the first major hurdle that you will need to clear on the way to med school. Your score on this test, along with your previous college transcripts will form the basis of your med school admission. Once you have cleared this test, you can apply to different medical schools in consideration with their repute, cost and location. Send in your test scores along with your transcripts and any additional documents that may be required by the university. For instance, some universities would require recommendation letters from your college professors, while others might require them from your past employers. You may also have to appear for interviews before a panel of esteemed medical personalities before getting accepted into a high profile medical school.

Finish Medical School:

Most medical schools will take four years to complete and will land you a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. During the first two years of this four year long degree, students would be exposed to subjects such as biochemistry, anatomy, psychology, and medical ethics and so on. In the next two years, they will be given more hands-on experience and will work with professional doctors to see how the real world of medicine works. Note that the licensure requirements for an MD and a DO are different, along with minor differences in the training requirements as well.

Complete Residency Program:

Once you have finished medical school, the next step would be to complete a residency in a specialized area. Residencies can vary in duration and can last anywhere between 3 to 8 years. During this time period, you will be working at hospitals, taking care of patients and analyzing the working of a medical institution, under the supervision of senior doctors. Residency programs can focus on different areas and the duration of the residency will ultimately depend on the program you choose.

Get Your License:

All doctors must be licensed to practice. Licensure requirements may vary from state to state however.  To be eligible, you need to have cleared medical school and a residency along with passing written and practical exams. You will need to clear one of the following license exams:

  • For an MD, the required exam is the US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)
  • For a D.O., the required exam is the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA)

Choose a Field:

After getting your license, you will need to decide what field you want to practice in. There are many different types of surgeons. You could choose to be a cardiac surgeon, general surgeon, orthopedic surgeon or a neurosurgeon. A cardiac surgeon focuses on diseases related to the heart and the cardiovascular system. General surgeons deal with the problems relating to the appendix, liver, colon, pancreas, gallbladder and more. Orthopedic surgeons are responsible for the surgical treatment of musculoskeletal conditions that affect the bones, ligaments and joints. And neurosurgeons focus on performing surgery on the brain, spinal cord and the nerves. These surgeons typically need to complete five to six years of residency training before they can begin working as professional doctors.

Becoming a surgeon is a long and arduous process. However, it is certainly worth every bit of effort that goes into it. Not only is it emotionally rewarding to give patients a healthier and renewed sense of living, but the career also pays pretty well. The 2015 median pay for physicians and surgeons, as per data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics was greater than or equal to $187,200 per year.


States with the highest employment level in this occupation:



Employment per thousand jobs

Location quotient

Hourly mean wage

Annual mean wage

California 16600.111.2618.1337720
Florida 11300.141.6817.9737370
Illinois 9600.161.9217.937240
Texas 7600.070.7816.6234570
New York 6500.070.8520.1241840


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