How to Become a Surgeon
1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)
Aspiring family physicians must first complete a bachelor's degree program in order to continue on to medical school.
Traditionally, premed programs offered by nearly all major universities, but are not necessarily required to enter medical school. Programs that emphasize science, such as biology, physics, or physiology, may also be sufficient as medical school qualifications.
However, those that are certain they want to enter this, or any other, medical profession should pursue a premed program.
The preparation timeline below offers an example premed curriculum:
|Grade Level||Example Courses|
2. Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills.
The MCAT is divided into four sections:
|Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems||
|Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems||
|Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior||
|Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills||
You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the MCAT website. If you are unsatisfied with your score on any of the aforementioned exams, you are free to retake them. Depending on the school, some will average your scores and others will simply take your most recent.
3. Earn a Medical Degree (4 Years)
A list of accredited medical education programs is available through the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). For more information and advice on successfully getting into medical school, you can check with the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Medical school consists of four years of studying the basics in science and participating in clinical “rotations.” These are hands-on clinical experiences in real health care settings.
In most med schools, the first two years are taken up with classroom studies before students are assigned to do rotations. The current trend, however, finds a number of medical schools exposing students to early clinical experiences that continue throughout the four-year program.
Most medical schools base their curriculum on a system-based approach that focuses on one physiological system at a time, such as the respiratory system or the nervous system.
Still others may use a case-based curriculum that teaches about the human body’s normal functioning and disease processes by assigning students to following individual patient cases from start to finish. Still other med schools use a combination of these approaches to educate their students.
The most common lines of coursework among medical schools consist of the following subjects:
During the last two years of schooling, students are required to obtain hands-on experience at hospitals and clinics, learning to diagnose and treat patients while working under the supervision of licensed physicians.
Upon completion of four years of med school, a student is awarded a medical degree, or M.D. Another popular trend is for schools to offer combination degree programs, such as MD/MPH, MD/PHD or MD/JD.
The AAMC’s website on Medical School Admission Requirements offers more information on this option.
The preparation timeline below provides an example medical school curriculum:
|3rd, 4th, 5th||
4. Take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)
In order to practice medicine, aspiring surgeons must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
The exam consists of three steps:
|Step & Purpose||Format & Other Info|
Assesses the ability to apply scientific concepts, basic to practicing medicine, emphasizing mechanisms underlying health, disease, and therapy.
Divided into 2 sub-steps: clinical knowledge (CK) & clinical skills (CS).
The clinical knowledge section assesses the ability to apply medical knowledge, skills, and clinical science to patient care.
The clinical skills section assesses the ability to gather information from patients, perform physical exams, and communicate findings with colleagues.
Divided into 2 sub-steps: Foundations of Independent Practice (FIP) & Advanced Clinical Medicine (ACM)
Foundations of Independent Practice assesses the knowledge and principles essential for effective health care.
Advanced Clinical Medicine assesses the ability to apply knowledge of health and disease to the context of patient management and an evolving disease.
5. Complete an Internship (1 Year)
Neurologists are required to complete a 1 year basic training year prior to beginning their residency program.
These are designed to train graduates in both surgical and internal medicine rotations while preparing them for entry into their chosen specialty. Transitional programs can be found on the FREIDA online database.
6. Complete a General Surgery Residency Program (3 - 4 Years)
After completing med school, you aren’t finished yet. Now it’s time to choose your specialty and complete your residency.
These residency programs are offered in conjunction with intensive clinical training experiences. Depending on the specialty, residency can last from three to eight years.
The American Medical Association’s online FREIDA service is an interactive database of over 9,400 graduate medical education programs.
These programs are all accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. There is also information on over 200 combined specialty programs.
7. Become a Certified General Surgeon
Upon completion of the residency and other requirements set in place by the American Board of Surgery (ABS), aspiring surgeons may take the General Surgery Qualifying Examination.
Next, they must take the General Surgery Certifying Examination and, once they've passed both, they may continue to complete the Surgical Critical Care Certifying Examination and become a board certified trauma surgeon.
Alternatively, surgeons may also become certified in osteopathic surgery, offered by the American Osteopathic Board of Surgery (AOBS).
This certification is broken down into several specialties, including:
- Cardiothoracic Surgery
- General Surgery
- General Vascular Surgery
- Neurological Surgery
- Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
- Urological Surgery