Surgeon Career Guide 2024

Table of Contents

Surgeon Salary in United States for 2023

Average Annual Salary: $239,200 Hourly Rate: $115

Data sourced from the U.S. Department of Labor via the ONET Web API. Updated at December 8, 2023

Best Colleges and Universities for Surgeons in 2023

Best College Majors for Surgeons in 2023

Projected Job Employment for Surgeon:

Estimated YearProjected YearEstimated EmploymentProjected Employment% ChangeProjected Annual Job Opening

Surgeon Career Path Overview

Becoming a surgeon is a challenging yet rewarding career path that combines both technical skill and intellectual prowess. This profession requires years of extensive education and training, but the impact you can make on patients' lives is truly unparalleled. Let's dive into the specifics of the surgeon career path.

Education Requirements

The journey to becoming a surgeon starts with a strong academic foundation in high school, focusing on science and math subjects. From there, prospective surgeons need to earn a Bachelor’s degree, typically in a pre-med or related field such as biology, chemistry, or physics. Post-graduation, the next step is to attend medical school, a rigorous 4-year program that culminates in earning an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) degree. The first two years of medical school generally cover fundamental medical knowledge, while the last two years involve clinical rotations across various specialties.

Residency and Fellowship

After completing medical school, aspiring surgeons must undergo residency training in their chosen specialty. This can last anywhere from three to eight years depending on the specialty. During residency, doctors gain hands-on experience under the supervision of experienced surgeons. Some surgeons choose to pursue further specialization through a fellowship. This additional training period can last one to three years and allows surgeons to gain expertise in subspecialties like pediatric surgery, cardiovascular surgery, or orthopedic surgery.

Licensing and Certification

To practice medicine legally, all surgeons must obtain a license in their state of practice. This involves passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX). In addition to licensure, many surgeons seek board certification in their specialty. Certification by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) demonstrates a surgeon's competence and commitment to ongoing professional development.

Job Prospects and Salary

The job market for surgeons is expected to grow in the coming years due to an aging population and advancements in medical technology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for surgeons is projected to grow by 7% from 2018 to 2028. As for salary, surgeons are among the highest paid professionals. The median annual wage for surgeons was $409,665 in May 2019, although this can vary widely depending on location, specialty, and level of experience.

Continuing Education

Given the rapidly evolving nature of medicine, continuing education is crucial for surgeons. This can involve attending conferences, participating in workshops, reading scientific literature, or taking additional courses. Many certification boards require ongoing learning for surgeons to maintain their certification status. In summary, becoming a surgeon is a long and demanding journey that requires intense dedication. However, the opportunity to make a significant impact on patients' lives and contribute to advancements in medical science makes it a highly rewarding career choice.

Surgeon Career Path Education and Training

Embarking on a career path as a surgeon requires extensive education and rigorous training. This journey is often long and demanding, but it is also rewarding, as surgeons have the privilege of saving lives and improving patients' quality of life.

Undergraduate Education

The first step in becoming a surgeon is to earn a bachelor's degree. While there is no specific pre-medical degree, aspiring surgeons should focus on science-related courses such as biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Volunteering or working in a healthcare setting can also provide valuable experience and insight into the medical profession.

Medical School

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, the next step is to attend medical school, which typically lasts four years. The first two years generally consist of classroom and laboratory instruction in subjects like anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, psychology, medical ethics, and laws governing medicine. The last two years involve supervised patient care in hospitals and clinics.

Residency Program

Upon completion of medical school, aspiring surgeons enter into residency programs. These programs provide hands-on surgical training and typically last between 5 to 7 years depending on the surgical specialty. Surgeons may choose to specialize in a variety of fields, including general surgery, orthopedic surgery, cardiovascular surgery, neurosurgery, or plastic surgery, among others.


After completing a residency program, many surgeons opt for further specialization through a fellowship. This additional training can last between 1 to 3 years and allows surgeons to gain specialized skills and knowledge in a specific area of surgery. Examples of these areas include pediatric surgery, trauma surgery, or advanced laparoscopic surgery.

Licensing and Certification

In all countries, surgeons must be licensed to practice medicine. In the United States, for example, after graduating from medical school, individuals must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Additionally, many surgeons choose to become board certified by passing exams in their specialty area, demonstrating their expertise and commitment to maintaining the highest standards in their practice. In conclusion, becoming a surgeon is a challenging and lengthy process that requires a significant investment of time and effort. However, the rewards of this profession, both personal and professional, make it a worthwhile pursuit for those with a passion for medicine and a desire to make a significant impact on patients' lives.

Surgeon Career Path Progression

The career path for surgeons is one of the most rigorous and demanding in the medical field. It requires years of education, intensive training, and a commitment to continuous learning. However, it is also one of the most rewarding, both personally and professionally.

Education Requirements

The journey to becoming a surgeon begins with a strong foundation in science and mathematics during high school. This is followed by a pre-medical course at the undergraduate level, usually a Bachelor's degree in Biology, Chemistry, or a related field. After obtaining their undergraduate degree, aspiring surgeons must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) to apply for medical school. Acceptance into medical school is highly competitive and depends on MCAT scores, academic performance, and personal interviews. Medical school typically lasts four years and culminates in earning a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. The first two years of medical school involve classroom and laboratory work, while the last two years involve clinical rotations in various medical specialties.

Residency and Fellowship

After graduating from medical school, newly minted doctors enter a surgical residency program. Residency programs provide hands-on experience in various surgical specialties and last between 5 to 7 years depending on the specialty. Following residency, some surgeons choose to specialize further by completing a fellowship. Fellowships provide additional training in specific areas of surgery such as cardiothoracic, pediatric, or orthopedic surgery, and typically last between 1 to 3 years.

Certification and Licensure

After completing their education and training, surgeons must become licensed in the state where they plan to practice. This involves passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX). In addition to licensure, many surgeons choose to become board-certified in their specialty. Board certification is not mandatory but it demonstrates a surgeon's competence and dedication to their field. It requires passing an exam administered by the American Board of Surgery or a related board.

Career Advancement

Once established in their careers, surgeons have several avenues for advancement. They may choose to specialize further, conduct research, teach at a medical school, or take on administrative roles such as department head or medical director. Some surgeons also choose to open their own private practices. In conclusion, the career path for surgeons is long and demanding, but it offers the potential for immense professional satisfaction and respect. The journey is arduous but those who persist are rewarded with a career that truly makes a difference in people's lives.

Surgeon Career Path Specializations and Subfields

The field of surgery is vast and encompasses a broad range of specializations and subfields, each with its unique set of skills, knowledge requirements, and training paths. In this section, we delve into some of the most prominent specializations within the surgeon career path to help you better understand the options available.

General Surgery

General surgeons are often the first point of contact in surgical care. They are trained to manage a broad spectrum of diseases and conditions that require surgical treatment. Their work involves diagnosing, preoperative, operative, and postoperative management of patient care. General surgeons often work in emergency rooms and intensive care units.

Orthopedic Surgery

Orthopedic surgeons specialize in conditions related to the musculoskeletal system. They treat diseases and injuries affecting bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves. Orthopedic surgeons may further specialize in specific areas such as sports medicine, pediatric orthopedics, or hand surgery.

Cardiothoracic Surgery

Cardiothoracic surgeons operate on diseases that occur in the organs inside the chest and in the bony structures and tissues that form the chest cavity. Most commonly, these surgeons deal with heart and lung diseases. This specialization requires extensive additional training beyond general surgery residency.


Neurosurgeons deal with disorders affecting the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. This is one of the most demanding surgical specialties, requiring a long period of training and a high level of precision in surgical techniques. Neurosurgeons often deal with life-threatening conditions, making this field both challenging and rewarding.

Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgeons focus on repairing and reconstructing missing or damaged tissue and skin. This can be due to injury, disease or cosmetic reasons. Sub-specialties within plastic surgery include reconstructive surgery, cosmetic surgery, hand surgery, and craniofacic surgery.

Urology Surgery

Urologists deal with diseases of the urinary tract and the male reproductive system. They can further specialize in areas such as pediatric urology, urologic oncology, or renal transplantation.

Gynecology and Obstetrics Surgery

Surgeons specializing in gynecology and obstetrics focus on women's health issues, particularly those affecting the reproductive system. This includes childbirth, menstruation and fertility issues, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), hormone disorders, and others. Each surgical specialty requires a specific set of skills and knowledge, which is obtained through additional years of training after completing a general surgery residency. It's important for aspiring surgeons to understand the various specializations available so they can make informed decisions about their career path.

Surgeon Career Path Job Market and Outlook

The job market for surgeons is a dynamic and evolving one, shaped by factors such as advancements in medical technology, changes in healthcare policy, and demographic shifts. The demand for surgical services is expected to grow significantly over the coming years, driven in part by an aging population that will require more medical procedures. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of surgeons is projected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth rate indicates a steady demand for this profession but also suggests that competition may be stiff, especially for coveted sub-specialties and positions in top-tier hospitals. The job outlook for surgeons is also influenced by geographical location. Areas with a higher population density or a larger aging population often have a greater need for surgeons. Similarly, underserved regions, whether urban or rural, may provide more job opportunities as they seek to attract qualified professionals to meet their healthcare needs. Moreover, the type of surgical specialty can also impact the job market and outlook. Some specialties are more in demand than others. For instance, general surgeons who can perform a variety of procedures may find more job opportunities compared to those specializing in a specific field. However, specialists often earn higher salaries due to their unique skills and expertise. Another crucial factor influencing the surgeon job market is technological advancement. Innovations in surgical techniques and equipment, such as robotic surgery or minimally invasive procedures, are creating new opportunities but also requiring surgeons to continuously update their skills. Those who are adept at learning new technologies and adapting to changes in the field may have a competitive advantage. In summary, the job market and outlook for surgeons are generally positive but are influenced by various factors such as location, specialty, and adaptability to technological changes. Aspiring surgeons should consider these dynamics when planning their career paths.

Surgeon Career Path Salary and Compensation

As one of the most esteemed professions in the healthcare field, a career as a surgeon comes with a substantial financial reward. However, the salary and compensation package can vary significantly depending on a multitude of factors such as specialization, experience, geographical location, type of employer, and more.

Entry-Level Surgeon Salary

Those starting out in their surgical careers can expect a significant income, albeit lower than their more experienced counterparts. As per data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for physicians and surgeons was $208,000 per year in 2020. However, keep in mind that this figure includes experienced professionals as well as those starting out.

Experienced Surgeon Salary

With years of practice and specialization under their belt, experienced surgeons stand to earn substantially higher salaries. According to Medscape's Physician Compensation Report 2021, orthopedic surgeons reported the highest average salary at $511,000 per year, followed closely by plastic surgeons at $500,000 per year.

Geographical Variations in Surgeon Salary

The geographical location also plays a significant role in determining a surgeon's salary. Areas with high demand for healthcare services or those with a shortage of medical professionals typically offer higher pay. For instance, surgeons practicing in urban areas or states with higher costs of living like New York or California tend to earn more than their counterparts in rural areas or states with lower costs of living.

Surgeon Compensation Packages

In addition to the base salary, surgeons often receive comprehensive compensation packages that may include benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, professional development opportunities, malpractice insurance coverage and sometimes even signing bonuses. Some employers also offer loan repayment assistance programs as part of their compensation packages, which can be a significant incentive for surgeons carrying student loan debt. It's important to note that the path to becoming a surgeon is long and often expensive, involving many years of education and training. However, the financial rewards, coupled with the opportunity to make a profound impact on patients' lives, make it a worthwhile career choice for many.

Surgeon Career Path Tips for Success

As one embarks on a career path as a surgeon, the journey is demanding, requiring rigorous education and training. However, the rewards of this profession are significant, offering both personal satisfaction and financial remuneration. To help you navigate this challenging but fulfilling career path, here are some essential tips for success.

Academic Excellence

Becoming a surgeon begins with a strong academic foundation. You must excel in your high school studies, particularly in the sciences. This forms the base for your pre-medical studies in college. In college, aim to graduate with top grades in your Bachelor's degree, focusing on biology, chemistry, physics, and math. These subjects are essential prerequisites for admission into medical school.

Medical School and Specialization

After your undergraduate studies, you'll need to attend medical school, which typically lasts four years. The first two years usually involve classroom and laboratory work, while the last two years involve clinical rotations in different areas of medicine. It's during this time you'll need to decide on your surgical specialty. Whether it's general surgery, orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, or any other specialty, choose an area that aligns with your interests and skills.

Residency and Fellowship

Upon graduation from medical school, aspiring surgeons must complete a residency program. This hands-on training lasts from three to seven years, depending on your chosen specialty. Some surgeons choose to further specialize by completing a fellowship after their residency. This additional training can last one to three years and provides the opportunity to gain more specific expertise.

Board Certification

After completing your residency or fellowship, aim to become board certified in your specialty. Board certification demonstrates that you've met the highest standards of practice in your field and can significantly enhance your professional reputation. To maintain this certification, you'll need to engage in continuous learning and regular re-certification.

Continuous Learning and Development

The field of medicine, especially surgery, is continuously evolving with new research, techniques, and technologies. As such, lifelong learning is crucial for success in this career. Attend conferences, participate in workshops, read medical journals, and stay abreast of the latest advancements in your specialty.

Developing Essential Skills

Apart from academic and clinical proficiency, surgeons need to develop a range of soft skills. These include strong communication skills to interact effectively with patients and their families, as well as teamwork skills to collaborate with other healthcare professionals. Other essential skills include problem-solving abilities, attention to detail, dexterity, and physical stamina.

Building a Strong Professional Network

Networking is vital in the medical profession. Build connections with your peers, mentors, and other healthcare professionals. These relationships can provide valuable opportunities for collaboration, mentorship, job opportunities, and career advancement. By adhering to these tips for success on your surgeon career path, you can navigate the demanding journey of becoming a surgeon and achieve a rewarding career in this prestigious field.

What is the Career Path for a Surgeon?

To become a surgeon, you need to follow a rigorous and lengthy educational and training pathway. The journey begins with a bachelor's degree in a pre-medical or science-related field. You then proceed to medical school, which usually takes four years to complete. Upon graduation, you need to complete a surgical residency program, which can last anywhere from three to eight years depending on the specialization. After your residency, you may decide to further specialize in a specific area of surgery, such as cardiovascular or orthopedic surgery, through a fellowship program. Lastly, it's crucial to pass the licensing exams and gain board certification to practice as a surgeon.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Surgeon?

The length of time it takes to become a surgeon depends on the specific surgical specialty you choose. At minimum, it typically takes about 13 years post-high school education to become a general surgeon. This includes four years of undergraduate studies, four years of medical school, and five years of residency. Specializations such as neurosurgery or plastic surgery require additional training and can take up to 16 years in total.

What Skills are Needed to be a Surgeon?

Surgeons require a unique set of skills that go beyond academic knowledge. These include exceptional hand-eye coordination and dexterity for performing intricate procedures. Surgeons must also possess excellent problem-solving skills, the ability to work under pressure, and resilience to handle long hours and life-or-death situations. Moreover, strong communication skills are essential as surgeons often work as part of a larger healthcare team and need to discuss complex medical information with patients and their families.

What is the Job Outlook for Surgeons?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for surgeons is projected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is largely driven by the aging population who will require more surgical procedures. Furthermore, advances in medical technology are making surgeries safer and more effective, which can increase demand for surgical services. However, it's worth noting that this field is highly competitive, and the job outlook can vary by specialty and location.

What is the Average Salary for Surgeons?

The salary of surgeons can vary greatly depending on their specialty, experience, and geographic location. However, according to the Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020, the average salary for a general surgeon in the U.S. was $409,665 per year. Specialists like orthopedic surgeons or plastic surgeons often earn significantly more. It's also worth mentioning that surgery is one of the highest paying professions in the healthcare industry. Remember that while a surgeon's salary can be high, it comes with a great deal of responsibility and requires many years of education and training.