Becoming a Surgeon-Salary, Education+14 Specializations

Summary of how to become a surgeon.

  • You will need 13 to 18 years to become a surgeon
  • There are 14 main surgical specializations
  • Every state requires a surgeon to acquire medical licensure
  • Average Annual Salary of a surgeon is $234,000
  • Projected Lifetime Earnings: $7,632,000

Dreaming of a career as a surgeon? Do you feel inextricably drawn to the world of scalpels, procedures, and scrubs? Whatever the case, surgery remains one of the top medical specialty choices for those who have what it takes.  To find out if this professional direction is right for you, take a free career and aptitude quiz.

There is not one single time figure that can be given. As with most medical fields, becoming a professional in surgery takes a fairly large time commitment. The only way to figure out how long it will take for you to become a surgeon is to break down the steps and figure out the length of which specific path you will follow. The amount of time required for education will also vary depending on what specialty you are pursuing a career in. In general, though, we can say that you will need 13 to 18 years to become a surgeon.

First things first: your undergraduate degree

One of the first requirements for entry to medical school is an undergraduate degree. This will generally take four years. If you take AP courses in high school and load yourself up, you may be able to finish in three. Of course, this may not be advisable if you are following a pre-med program due to the difficulty of some of your courses.

  • Step one – Undergraduate degree. Time – Four years

Medical school

Following the completion of your four-year degree, you will begin medical school. There isn’t too much to say about it. Medical school will take four years regardless of what field you wish to enter. For those who have difficulty keeping up with the rapid pace, it may take anywhere from 5-6 years, but 4 is the standard amount of time.

  • Step two – Medical school. Time – four years


This is where your choice of path matters. The typical surgery residency will be anywhere from 5-7 years. If choose to pursue a residency in general surgery, for example, you can expect to spend 5 years in residency. If you wish to go into something more specialized, such as plastic surgery or neurosurgery, you will spend a longer length of time in residency, generally around 6-7 become a surgeon

  • Step three: Residency. Time – 5-7 years.

Post-residency training (optional depending on specialty)

Following your residency, you will be able to practice as a surgeon. You are, in every sense of the word, a surgeon. If you want to move into a very specialized field, though, you will more than likely have to pursue training after the completion of a residency program, generally in the form of a fellowship. Fellowships may last anywhere from six months to two years, depending on the area.

  • Step four: Post-residency training. Time – 0-5 years.

And there you have it. From beginning to start, become a surgeon will take at least thirteen years of post-secondary education for most people. If you feel the urge to, you may also choose to extend your education by receiving post-residency training and researching. Total time to become a surgeon: 13-18 years

Surgeon’s Licensure

Surgeons not only require a formal extensive education at medical school. Every U.S. state additionally requires a surgeon to acquire medical licensure. Surgeons must take and pass the COMLE (Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam), or the U.S. MLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination).

On top of that must surgeons must also receive certification in surgery (and also in their specific sub-specialties) by the ABMS (American Board of Medical Specialists) or the AOA (American Osteopathic Association). In practically all states are surgeons required to earn CE (continuing education) credits all through their careers in order to continue to be certified and maintain licensure.

Surgical Specializations

According to the American Board of Medical Specialties, there are 14 main surgical specializations. If you want to work as a surgeon, it is essential that you determine which specialization you wish to work in. Specialties may vary in type of work, pay, lifestyle, and so on. This post includes important information for anybody considering work as a surgeon. Specializations may also differ from each other in pay.

14 specializations:

  1. General surgery. A specialty marked by its lack of specialization. General surgeons are trained to perform on a broad variety of pathologies and a wide range of body parts. The general surgeon is most likely the one who will be taking care of a critically ill patient or a trauma victim.
  2. Thoracic surgery (cardio-thoracic surgery). Thoracic surgeons work with pathologies found inside of the chest. These may include problems with the heart, lungs, heart valves, and so on. Cardiac surgeons fall into this group.
  3. Colon and rectal surgery. Self-explanatory. Colon and rectal surgeons deal with problems in the intestinal tract, colon, and rectum. Colon and rectal surgeons may also perform some abdominal surgeries.
  4. Gynecology and Obstetrics. A surgeon specializing in gynecology and obstetrics will have the skills necessary to perform surgery on pregnant patients, delivery babies, and procedures involving the female reproductive system.
  5. Gynecologic Oncology. Gynecologic oncologists specialize in procedures dealing with cancers affecting the female reproductive system.
  6. Neurological Surgery. Neurosurgeons are concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of pathologies affecting the nervous system: whether the brain, the spinal cord, or the peripheral nerves.
  7. Ophthalmic Surgery. Eye surgeons. An ophthalmic surgeon is trained to diagnose and treat problems of the eye.
  8. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. These surgeons are trained to diagnosis and treat a broad spectrum of injuries and other pathologies that may occur in the jaw, mouth, or face. Depending on country, this may be considered a medical or dental specialty.
  9. Orthopaedic Surgery. Orthopaedic surgeons deal with the musculoskeletal system in general, whether that means bones, muscle, skin, or joints. One of the broadest fields.
  10. Otolaryngology. An otolaryngologist is a surgeon specializing in diseases affecting the head and neck. These are your “ear, nose, and throat” surgeons.
  11. Pediatric Surgery. Pediatric surgeons concern themselves with the diagnosis and operative care of children, whether they are newborns, children, or teenagers.
  12. Plastic and Maxillofacial Surgery. Plastic surgeons fall under this specialty. Plastic and maxillofacial surgeons specialize in the repair and reconstruction of the body, especially in the areas of the face, hands, breasts, and genitalia.
  13. Urology. Urologists manage disorders affecting the urinary system as well as disorders of the adrenal gland.
  14. Vascular Surgery. Surgeons trained in vascular surgery deal with pathology and disease affecting the arteries and veins of the human body. Vascular surgeons are also trained in the diagnosis and treatment of strokes.

If you want to discover if this professional environment is your ticket, you can take our free career and personality test.