What do you do for a living? general surgeon

I am a Doctor of Medicine who practices as a General Surgeon.  General Surgery is the oldest specialty field in surgery.  At one time, all surgery done in hospitals was done by a General Surgeon.  As medicine has gotten more complex, the fields of Orthopedics, Neurosurgery, Gynecology, Urology, etc., have developed.

How would you describe what you do?

I practice in a five surgeon group in a rural area that has a 225 bed hospital   We are a private, fee-for-service group,  and not owned by a hospital.

Quick Facts!

How much do general surgeons make? The average pay is between $200,000 and $400,000. To see how much this doctor makes Click Here.

How to become a general surgeon? You’ll need to finish high school, medical school, and 4 years of residency to become a general surgeon. You can also specialize for 2 years. See how this doctor became a general surgeon Click Here and Here.

My practice is not typical of most General Surgeons, since the majority of surgeons live in big cities and sub-specialize.

What does your work entail ?

My practice, luckily, encompasses most areas of the original practice of General Surgery.  I enjoy the variety of cases I am able to handle.

I perform thyroid and parathyroid surgery, non-cardiac thoracic (chest) surgery( including infections and cancers), benign and malignant disease of the breast, abdominal surgery such as gallbladder, stomach, colon and and appendix cases, in addition to abdominal hernias.  I also do some gynecology surgery such as hysterectomies, although most of these cases are done in most hospitals by gynecologists.  My practice also involves vascular surgery, including abdominal aortic aneurysms.  I also treat skin and soft-tissue tumors, including melanomas.
In our hospital, my partners and I are also the trauma surgeons, taking care of victims of car accidents and other types of trauma.

I am in the office one and a half days a week, in surgery two-three days a week, performing 40-50 cases a month.  I usually get part of a day off each week.  Although I took call every other weekend earlier in my career, I now take call every fifth weekend.

How did you get started as a general surgeon?

In high school, I always enjoyed my science classes.  Our school had career days, and the physicians who would talk were always happy in their careers, and I started to look harder at this profession.

During college, an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) surgeon in my home town took me into surgery to watch him work (probably can’t do this now days) and I was hooked.

I went through medical school, though, thinking I would be an Internal Medicine specialist, but during my internship several of the Surgery residents took an interest in me, and I switched to General Surgery.

What do you like about being a general surgeon?

I like the personal rewards that General Surgery gives me.  I enjoy taking a complex medical problem and figuring out what is wrong  or being able to take a sick patient to the operating room, working hard during the case, and, most of the time, having the patient recover and be better than they were before the surgery.  The majority of my patients appreciate the care they receive by me and my partners, and this in itself is very rewarding.

In my particular practice, I enjoy the variety of diseases I can care for and the cases I can perform.  I would be bonkers if I had to do the same thing every day, like a cataract surgeon (although they are at the bank and golf course hours before me!)

What do you dislike?

I dislike several things:  having to deal with insurance companies and Medicare, both of whom are constantly trying to cheapen my services and talents; getting up at night to take care of folks who are drunk or drugged and are in automobile accidents, hurting themselves or others ; taking care of people who have spent a lifetime not taking care of themselves, and having them expect miracles from my care.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

Since I live in a retirement area, about 60% of my income comes from Medicare (most Surgeon have 35-40% Medicare).  25% is private insurance, 5% Medicaid and a growing percentage, 5-10%, is no insurance.

We write off a significant amount of care, counting the discounts of Medicare and Medicaid, in addition to the charity care.  The IRS does not allow us any deduction for this free or discounted care.

How much money do you make as general surgeon?

I make approximately $325,000 a year.  No one knows what will happen to medical reimbursement with the new health care bill.

What education or skills are needed to be a general surgeon?

A budding Surgeon must be focused.  In college,  I recommend seeking counsel with your college’s pre-med advisor, who can steer you to the courses you will need to get in med school.  Good grades, not making stupid mistakes out of the classroom (yes, med schools usually do background checks) and hard work help get you into medical school.  General Surgery is a five year residency after medical school.  Yes, it is hard work (total of 25 years of school and training).  Yes, I enjoyed my training and yes, I would do it again!

What is most challenging about what you do?

Staying up with the ever changing science of surgery, and keeping focused on my patients when forces like the government and insurance companies try to do something that is not right.

What is most rewarding?

Realizing that something I am able to do with my brains or my hands is important in a patient’s life.  Occasionally it is life saving, but most of the time just personally rewarding.

What advice would you offer someone considering general surgery?

The work to get here is hard, and the number of General Surgeons in the U.S. is dropping each year.  Your talents will be very valuable to hospitals and patients in the future due to supply and demand of your profession.

How much time off do you get/take?

I go to one or two surgical meeting yearly, and take an additional 2-3 weeks off.  I live in a vacation area, and enjoy my time off locally, also.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

They think General Surgery is like general practice, and not a five -year surgical specialty.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I am working on some business ventures with my family.  I  enjoy traveling, and would like to use my surgical skills in other countries.

What else would you like people to know about what you do?

I think it is important for someone entering my profession to take time for their family and become involved in their community.  Both are important parts of a balanced life.


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Alahna February 7, 2017 at 4:45 pm

Dear Doctor,
I am a seventh grader who wants to be a general surgeon when I am older and in one of my classes (careers) we need to make a Favorite Job and I need help. I need help with a clear summary of job description. Could you explain to me what a general surgeon does exactly to help me with it?

Yours Truly


alahna February 7, 2017 at 4:43 pm

Dear Doctor,
I am a seventh grader who wants to be a general surgeon when I am older and in one of my classes (careers) we need to make a Favorite Job and I need help. I need help with a clear summary of job description. Could you explain to me what a general surgeon does exactly to help me with it?


Destini December 28, 2016 at 10:15 pm

Dear Doc,
I’m in fourth grade and I know this is very young but every since I was little I’ve wanted to be a General Surgeon. It has been my dream to help people and make them feel better. So I have some questions, what is it like having this very important job and still trying to spend time with your family? Is it hard to do your job? Is it a lot of pressure to know if you make one wrong move it could endanger a persons life? I already know it must feel extremely amazing when you save a persons life. Well those are all my questions, for now. I hope they all get answered.
Thank You for your Time!


Rayyan Khan February 29, 2016 at 1:37 am

Dear Doctor,

I am in a Career Exploration class in 7th Grade and we have to interview a person who has a career that we are interested in. As a child, I have been interested in health care and I would love to be a surgeon when I grow up. If at all possible, I would like to interview a doctor that is willing to be interviewed. Please let me know as soon as possible if you or some other doctor would be willing to be interviewed.

Thank you for your help,
Rayyan Khan


Kelly September 8, 2015 at 7:18 pm


I am a 4th year medical student applying to general surgery programs. I am interested in knowing your hourly rate. I see in your post that you make $325,000, but I feel that for many general surgeons they are overworked and underpaid for their skills and hours. Do you feel you are fairly compensated for your time?




Maria J. August 27, 2015 at 1:47 pm

Dear Doc,

You responded to a post I left quite a while back, but I never forgot your words of wisdom and encouragement; only regret not having thanked you sooner. Your generosity is immense and I’m grateful.

I decided not to pursue medical school. At nearly 50 and fairly content with my present profession (mediation), I realized I didn’t have the depth of motivation and drive it would responsibly require. It was worth exploring and now I’m quite fine with where I’ve arrived at. Many thanks for your valuable time and influence. Such a wonderful contribution you continue to make!

Very best,
Maria J.


Lily June 19, 2015 at 3:07 pm

I am about to enter the 7th grade an have been thinking of becoming a surgeon. I started researching surgeons and found general surgeons. I believe general surgery would be thrilling and hard work. (which I both enjoy) I know I must be compassionate and I have listened to many people and almost all of them say they enjoy their work. I also have a few questions. What type of science and chemistry are necessary to learn? Did you often study for tests and have to remember many things for college? did you normally stay home and work on school instead of going out and having fun? I have many more questions and would like to speak with you
a bit more about general surgery.

thank you for your time!


Cassidy sweeney April 16, 2014 at 4:15 pm

I’m going into high school next year
And have had a passion for this job for
Past two years, I have hear many things
Good and bad about this job. It is something
I am looking forward to! And every time
I pass a hospital I picture myself walking
In a place like that every day and end up
Smiling. I am just concerned that when I have
Family the hours will make it difficult to be


JaKyra December 26, 2013 at 4:21 am

hello, I’m a junior in high school and I’m looking into General Surgery this helped me a lot with learning more about the field. I’m looking into what I want to be because I want t pick the best college possible.


DocSurgeon December 29, 2013 at 11:05 am

Dear JaKyra,
I am glad you have been helped through this website.
It seems that the media has now recognized the importance of general surgeons, especially with the shortage of surgeons as we enter a new age in medicine.
CNN Money has placed General Surgery as the 4th best career for the future, and I encourage you to look at this by the following link:
Best wishes for your future!


Stacy September 21, 2013 at 7:15 am

Dear Doc,

I’m currently a Senior about to finish my undergraduate studies, unfortnately in one of my last semesters I had a few personal family issues and my academics dropped. I’m working hard to get those marks turned around but I fear this slight bump in the road may deny me the chance on getting in to medical school. I was thinking of continuing on to grad school and then applying to medical school to turn my academics around. Is there any tips and advice you can give me about this. I know getting in to medical school is very hard, and that’s why I’m afraid last semester is going to hurt me bad. What should I do ? Will going to graduate school and getting my masters help me?

Thank you for you time!


Ami April 14, 2013 at 5:24 pm

What is this surgeon’s name? And, what is your (or the author or interview taker’s) name? I need it for my paper.


Anna April 16, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Yes, please! I want to cite this article in an essay on surgical careers.


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