Exploring this Job

If you are interested in becoming a surgeon, pay special attention to the work involved in your science laboratory courses. Obviously, working on a living human being is a much weightier prospect than dissecting a pig or a frog, but what you learn about basic handling and cleaning of tools, making incisions, and identifying and properly referring to the body's structures will prove invaluable in your future career. Also ask your science teacher or career counselor to get a surgeon to speak to your biology class, so that they can help you understand more of what the job involves.

The Job

The work of a surgeon varies according to the work environment and specialty. For example, a general surgeon who specializes in trauma care would most likely work in a large, urban hospital where they would spend a great deal of time in the operating room performing emergency surgical procedures at a moment's notice. On the other hand, a general surgeon who specializes in hernia repair would probably have a more predictable work schedule and would spend much of the time in an ambulatory (also called outpatient) surgery center.

The surgeon is responsible for the diagnosis of the patient, for performing operations, and for providing patients with postoperative surgical care and treatment. In emergency room situations, the patient typically has an injury or severe pain. If the patient needs surgery, the on-duty general surgeon will schedule the surgery. Surgery may be scheduled for the following day, or the patient will be operated on immediately, depending on the urgency of the situation.

A surgeon sees such cases as gunshot, stabbing, and accident victims. Other cases that often involve emergency surgery include appendectomies and removal of kidney stones. When certain problems, such as a kidney stone or inflamed appendix, are diagnosed at an early stage, the surgeon can perform nonemergency surgery.

There are several specialties of surgery and four areas of subspecialization of general surgery. For these areas, the surgeon can receive further education and training leading to certification. A few of these specializations include neurosurgery (care for disorders of the nervous system), plastic and reconstructive surgery (care for defects of the skin and underlying musculoskeletal structure), orthopaedic surgery (care for musculoskeletal disorders that are present at birth or develop later), and thoracic surgery (care for diseases and conditions of the chest). The subspecializations for general surgery are: general vascular surgery, pediatric surgery, hand surgery, and surgical critical care.