Cutting to the Chase: Here's How to Become a Surgeon

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Oct 19, 2018

Oct 19, 2018 • by Rebecca Smith

While there aren't currently enough physicians enrolled in school to meet our current needs, this is good news for would-be surgeons.

If you're learning how to become a surgeon, you're going to find a high demand for people with your skills and talent, leading you to high pay and choice of jobs. If you want to find a lucrative field that helps heal people, surgeons are your top choice.

If you have questions about what it takes to become a surgeon, check out our guide for how your path will go.

1. Ask Yourself Why

Before you start down the long path to becoming a surgeon, you should figure out what it is that's drawn you to this path. If you have only an abstract idea of what it means to be a surgeon, you might not like everything that's involved with the process. After you see your first sight of blood, you might find that you just want to help people and would be better as a social worker or schoolteacher.

Becoming a surgeon is a long and treacherous path that's rewarding not only monetarily but in how much you can change peoples' lives. When you perform a successful surgery on a patient, you could be improving their quality of life immensely. In some cases, you could be saving them from potential death.

Becoming a surgeon is a noble choice but not one that should be taken lightly. Your path will involve years of schooling, a long residency, and constant perfection of your skills.

2. Get Your Bachelor's Degree

Before you start your path to medical school, you need to fulfill your undergraduate requirements. They often start with premedical courses in the sciences. If you haven't met requirements for biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and physics, you won't be able to even apply for school.

While working on your undergraduate degree, you need to not only achieve high grades but also show off your other skills as a candidate. Medical schools like to find candidates who are leaders and who can make strong decisions under pressure. If you're thinking about what you'll be doing while working on your bachelor's degree, you need to work in some extracurricular activities involving medicine.

Take your time in studying for the MCAT so that you can get into a competitive program with your scores.

During this period, you can learn about what the different specialties there are for surgeons and find out what might interest you. While you may have gone in with the intention of becoming a heart surgeon, you could find yourself enamored with the workings of the brain.

Keep your mind open as you may find that you like another aspect of medicine more altogether. Some professionals go through all of the training to come out the other side finding out that they love to teach.

3. Attend Medical School

After your undergraduate degree, you'll have to work on getting into a medical program. You need to get choose between an allopathic medical program to get your M.D. or an Osteopathic program to get your D.O.

Either one can prepare you to become a surgeon but you'll find that an osteopathic degree program will give you more information on preventative medicine. If you're interested in the musculoskeletal system, you'll find a lot more to learn in a D.O. program.

Your first two years will be focused on those basic sciences that undergird the work of a surgeon. You'll learn about biochemistry, pathology, anatomy, pharmacology, and microbiology.

Following that, you'll spend two years working on becoming a good doctor to your patients. Patient care takes time and requires clinical rotations. You'll work in family practice, surgery, internal medicine, and even psychiatry.

4. Work On Licensing

Following a successful medical degree program, you'll then work on getting licensed to practice. You're required to get a license if you want to practice medicine of any kind in the U.S.

If you want to become an allopathic physician, you'll need to pass the USMLE. The United States Medical Licensing Examination is the basic minimum standard of licensing as a physician.

For osteopathic physicians, there's a requirement for the COMLEX or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam.

Beyond these licenses, you can achieve other kinds of licenses and specialized degrees that can give you the tools you need to make patients feel assured.

5. Finish a Residency

Following your licensing or concurrent to, you need to take a residency after you graduate. During a residency to become a surgeon, you'll spend five years working clinical rotations. You'll be asked to complete a variety of surgeries during this period.

You could work anyplace from a sinus & allergy wellness center to a children's hospital.

If you're not sure which type of surgery you prefer to work on, you'll learn pediatric, transplants, plastic surgery, and cardiovascular work. You'll learn how to do research and compile data from peer-reviewed papers. You'll also be attending lots of conferences, meeting people, networking, and learning more about the industry.

6. Get Board Certified

Following your residency, you may decide to get certified. When you get certified by the American Board of surgery, you'll be considered a highly competent and skilled allopathic surgeon. If you've taken the osteopathic route, your certification needs to come from the American Osteopathic Board of Surgery.

Following your certification, you should always be learning. While, by this point, you'll be ready to practice medicine and work at the largest institutions in the world, you should always have a curiosity for the field. There will be changes to technique and technology that can make your life easier and help you to serve patients better.

Learning How To Become A Surgeon Take Commitment

Even if you have the best intentions of being a great one, learning how to become a surgeon has no shortcuts. Be prepared to take nearly 10 years learning how to get to the first rung of a long and tiring ladder. However, if helping people is the most rewarding thing about any job, this is the path for you.

If you think you may prefer to work from home, check out our guide to jobs that can fulfill you without all the running around.