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.


{ 100 comments… read them below or add one }

yousef April 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Dear DocSurgeon,

thanks for all of the information, i’m a foreign student in the US and my English is not that good. I’m still in high school, but I’m planing to be a surgeon I just want to know if the language is going to effect my plans, and i also want to know how many years it takes to become a specialist surgeon ?

Thank you 😀


Kim April 3, 2013 at 9:19 am

Dear DocSurgeon,

Thank you for answering all of these questions, they have been invaluable in reinforcing my decision to go into surgery. My question for you was, how often do you revise what you learnt in medical school and during residency? Do you use flashcards or old notes? Are you simply expected to remember everything without revision?

Thank you 🙂


TarM March 28, 2013 at 7:04 am


First of all, thank you so much for answering all these questions. I am a high school student and I have had my heart set on becoming a Surgeon for a long time now. My question is about volunteering. How should I go about asking for volunteer opportunities?

and one more question

What is life like for a physician out of med school during residency?


Ayush March 21, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Hi DocSurgeon,

I am already dead set on surgery. I’m also an engineer and I have a passion for innovation. I love being in the OR and I have a greater satisfaction with fixing things than diagnosing them. There’s many other things I can say, but I was interested in a bunch of specialties before I finally came to my realization with surgery. The only thing that was holding me back was lifestyle issues, which every student thinks about. After doing a lot of research, I realized that after the 5-year residency, if a surgeon did something similar to what you do – a group specialty practice, the hours are more flexible and one can enjoy family time and hobbies. My dream is to be at that position one day. I hope that I can live a balanced life with at least 1 hobby per week and time for family on weekends.


DocSurgeon March 7, 2013 at 9:28 am

Dear Julia,
The truth about medicine and surgery is that they are part of a very demanding profession. I studied in college and medical school while other friends partied and started their careers. I started my surgical practice at age 31, and we also started our family at the same time (some friends did have children during residency, but there were extra demands on them because of that).
I only entered a practice where I had a good surgical partner, and through the years have added others. I was able to take vacations, see my children’s plays and games, and still have a rewarding practice. This is especially rewarding in a small town, where you run into your patients every day.
As I have said throughout this blog, you need to take control of your future and career no matter what it is.
I am approaching the end of a rewarding career (33 years +) and I have no regrets. I am perhaps one of the minority of colleagues who, if given the chance, would repeat my career choice. I have loved being a surgeon. I love the satisfaction of having a hand-shake or hug after getting a sick patient well.
I can only hope that those who read this will seek to have a similar experience in whatever profession of job they enter.
Take care and good luck.


Julia March 5, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Hi there, I am very interested in surgery, especially cardiac surgery, however I am concerned about the time commitment. As you went through schooling, and up until now, how much free-time do you get a day, or per week? Do you ever have days off where you can go on day trips without fear of being called in? These are the only concerns I have with the profession, but my back up is a cardiologist or a virologist. What are you experiences with any of these? And are the hours better?


DocSurgeon February 21, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Dear Maria,
When I went to medical school in the dark ages (about 40 years ago) there were two people in their late 40’s in school with me. One was a PhD and the other a dentist. Both did well and, as far as I know, enjoyed their professional careers. They had life experiences that they shared in positive ways with us and were readily accepted by their fellow students.
I encourage you to pursue you dreams. When you stand at the door of eternity you should be able to feel that you accomplished what you wanted in this life and have no regrets, no matter what profession or job you had.
The age factor is the wild card, mainly because some medical schools may be looking for younger students who can practice longer than perhaps you will be able to. I do not know how they look at this in the age of age discrimination (as an attorney you may know better than I). Allowing them to counsel you will be a great help.
I would start sooner than later to talk to your state schools and private schools you would consider attending and ask your question early in the process. I think you would bring experience and maturity to the med school. There is no reason you would not be able to practice as long as you wanted (and were able) and make up for the late start.
In addition, we in medicine always like to have one less lawyer and one more physician on our side. 🙂
Best of luck to you.


Maria February 20, 2013 at 11:23 pm

Dear DocSurgeon,

I’m sorry if an unfinished email got fired off earlier… Kindle issues.

I’m writing to ask hour thoughts on my pursuing medical school late in life. Do you recommend it or not? I’ve been a lawyer for 20 years, without ever finding enjoyment or satisfaction. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the education and privileges such has provided me. Sciences were always my first love, though. I finally reached a very stable place in life and got the courage to turn back. I’m now starting to retake the pre-med courses I took in undergrad and love every aspect about doing so. Its only when I think about how old I’ll be if/when I graduate medical school (47 now) that I get anxious and second guess what I’m taking on. Otherwise, the prospect of being active with my head and hands for as long as I’m responsibly able to be is the only life I can imagine living.


Maria imagine living. I’m not
one who’s ever thought about retirement.

My extra years (I’m 47) are enriching the experience, to say the least.


DocSurgeon February 18, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Dear Future Surgeons,
Again I apologize for the delay in answering your many questions. I will try and take up where I left off.
To Future Best Surgeon and Eric:
All of the various fields of surgery are demanding, and the one you pick must be the one that not only challenges you but allows you the most satisfaction. This is different for each person and I hope you find the field that allows you to look forward to going to “work” each day.
To Debora:
Unless you have a urge to do academic work, each medical school can give you an excellent education. You need to make sure you take advantage of the classes. Do well and you can write your own ticket for residency, which I think is more important than which medical school you attend.
To Debora and Kiran:
There have been many times the demands of my practice have taken me away from family, but generally I have been able to structure my practice to allow the most time available for family and personal time. You can plan to work with other surgeons who also value their time and cover for each other and divide the call evenings and weekends where you can have both a rewarding practice and time off. You can make it happen.
To Chris:
The path to being a surgeon is long but rewarding: high school, and a degree from a college in one of the sciences, with your eye on the requirements that the medical school wants you to have. The four years of medical school will pass quickly, followed by a five year surgery residency or one year internship and four of surgery. I promise you will look back on the years of training with a smile and a feeling of deep satisfaction. Not everyone can do this hard work, but I know you can.
To Lorraine and Destini:
Stress is a major component of surgery. You handle it by learning how to manage difficult cases, so they seem “old hat” when they occur. Keeping your head on straight when there is an emergency is an attribute of a surgeon, and this will not be a problem for the well trained surgeon.
The changes in technology are many in surgery, but I like the fact that the major tenets of surgery have not changed in 100 years (drain infections, remove bad tissue, etc.) I try to not let technology make me forget these basic rules of surgery.
To Olivia:
As I have said before, in middle school, high school and in college, first spend time with your counselor or advisor to make sure you are taking the right classes and on the right path for medicine, since the requirements can always change. This will save you much time and aggravation.

Thank you all for your questions and interest in surgery.


Olivia February 18, 2013 at 11:59 am

Dear doc,
Im currently in highschool and i am VERY interested in becoming
A general surgeon when i graduate. I was just wondering what
Courses i should be taking and what i should major in when i
First go to college.


Kiran January 22, 2013 at 5:14 pm

First off, I’d like to thank you for this very insightful article as it’s helped me gain an even greater love for and desire to go into (general) surgery. On the last question you answered, you said it’s also important to set aside time for your family and a personal life as well. I’m only about to graduate high school in a few months and I have my heart set in the direction of medicine for sure, specifically general surgery, but I’ve been told by others that several medical professions, especially surgeons, don’t have much time for a personal and social life as they’re stuck in their careers most of the day. I understand that’s not always true, but I wanted to ask somebody who has the credibility of being in this position as the person who told me this generalization is still in college and not in the medical field yet. I’m prepared to set aside a great chunk of my time for something that I love this much, but family is much more important to me and being a woman, I hope to have a family of my own one day and settle down. However, seeing as I won’t become an independent, practicing surgeon until my early 30s, I don’t know how my career life will play out with my personal life. Essentially what I want to ask you is how you deal with your personal life and how much your career as a surgeon keeps you or allows you to be with or away from your family.


Loraine January 20, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Very interesting! I have a couple of questions as well. How do you cope with stress? What advice would you give someone looking in pursuing this field? What was your most interesting event that occurred while on the job? How has technology advancement affected your job? And on average, how many hours a week are you working? Sorry for all the questions but I would greatly appreciate it if you could answer it.


DestiniBriggs January 3, 2013 at 6:51 pm

How do you handle stress and emergency situations? What are the key challenges of this field? Why did you pick this career field?


Eric Espinosa Andrade December 16, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Is becoming an orthopedic surgeon easier than becoming a general surgeon since its studying a certain type of surgery??


Deshawn December 4, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Hi, i am currently an 8th grader and i am in the process of making a career project. I was reading this fantastically written article and was wondering if you would mind answering a few more questions? thanks!



Chris December 3, 2012 at 8:57 am

Dear DocSurgeon, First, I would like to thank you for taking the time to write this article, for I am interested in becoming a General Surgeon. Next, i have a few questions.. 2) Bachelor of Science/Arts — Your four year degree in the major of your choice, preferably Biology. Enroll in the Pre-med program in order to be prepared for the MCAT’s and get accepted into Medical School.
3) Medical Degree — A 4 year program in medical school.
4) 1-3 Years Internship (Many people do it in one or two years)
5) Your medical residency which is AT LEAST 4 years, but for surgeon it’s going to take a couple more years.
Is this the correct schooling? I am still a junior in highschool, and I want to major in Biology. I am interested in Duke Univ. or ECU Univ. I am open to other schools, but these are close to home, and from I hear, are good medical schools. So if i get accepted into one of these schools, I have to do a 4 year program? I am confused there. I major in Biology, and enroll in a Pre-Med program? Also, what schools did you go to? Thank you for reading this. My e-mail is Chris.Lusardi@rocketmail.com

Thanks Doc, Chris.


debora gallegos November 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Hello DocSurgeon.

I think it’s awesome how you have taken your time to answer all these questions. I have one myself as well. Does it really make a difference what medical school you attend?? My friend was saying that you have to go to a really good one to get noticed. Also as a general surgeon do you have time to spend with your family, go out with friends, travel and go to church?? Can you take weekends off? I’ve always wondered because it’s a demanding profession. Thank you!


future best surgeon :) September 27, 2012 at 10:21 am

Greetings DocSurgeon

i am very much encouraged by your interview and comments. my dream is to be a general surgeon (dying for it).. so,can you please help me what subject to be focused (during M.B.B.S),how i should study and also which is the toughest surgery branch?? such as ortho,ent,cardio or gen.surgery etc.
also please give me some hints of what a gen.surgeon should possess(eg.personality etc etc..) btw im an Indian student undergoing M.B.B.S degree in China.
sorry for too many questions 🙂
thank you.. (wishing you success…)


DocSugeon August 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Sorry I have not answered questions for a time. Let me try and get caught up.
There was a question about going to nursing school prior to medical school. Please refer to my reply to Aly above.
Both General Surgery and Neurosurgery are rigorous specialties, with both taking 5 or six years of training (while you are also paid). Occasionally a program will require an extra year in the research labs.
The third year medical student is in the quandary that all of us in medicine have faced. It initially seemed like a major decision to pick medicine, but now what field of medicine are we meant for? There are pluses and minus’ for each field, and this is one you will have to sort out. As I have mentioned previously, your staff physicians and those in private practice can give good counsel. Also, I think you can make the practice fit what you want, rather than vice versa.
I do feel strongly that whether you are male or female, you owe your profession a full-time commitment to the profession. You can, with hard work and the right help, have your professional and private lives.
I do not have any experience with foreign educated physicians working in the U.S. system of residency. I did gain some insight by reading “Cutting for Stone”, by Dr. Abraham Verghese. This is one of the best novels I have read. I recommend it to all, whether interested in medicine or not.
I have made time for relaxation during my career, either by time off while in town or taking real vacation time. I will say it takes a while longer for a surgeon to unwind. I also try and do something outside my normal comfort zone.
I attended a state medical school, and the fees were minimal compared to today’s rates. If tuition costs are a concern, go to a state-supported school, work hard and graduate near the top of your class, and then go to the best residency you can find.
Your total debt will be more a factor of your living expenses/lifestyle rather than tuition costs. You can worry about keeping up with the Jones after you get into practice.
Thank you all for your questions and interest.


Hanna August 5, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Dear Doctor,

Thank you very much for the interview, it was a big help. Now I am a freshman on high school and I would like to know what classes should I take on high school that would help me to accomplish my dream of becaming a general surgeon. Also I would like to know where I could work while I am studying this career so I can cover my everyday needs.
Thank you,


Neurosurgeon August 4, 2012 at 4:17 am

this is a nice profession , but there is years of studies and expensive school fees.


Ayanna July 6, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Hi I’m currently a junior in high school and I’m interested in the medical field especially surgery. I plan on attending medical school but I’m not sure what type of surgery I want to do yet. I was wondering if you have days that you are able to relax a part from time you take off of work. Which medical school did you attend? Was it difficult paying for medical school?


Sanem May 7, 2012 at 11:25 am

Dear Doctor,
I am a surgeon in my own country Turkey. But I want to practice in Us. I have ECFMG certificate and am currently doing an observer ship in Cleveland clinic colorectal surgery. I know that I have to repeat residency again. And I am willing to do that. But I don’t have any LOR yet. Do you think I have a chance to be matched in a residency program?


AfroMedStudent March 28, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Hi Doc Surgeon,

Thank you for your kindness and willingness to aid us through our careers paths. I am a 3rd year medical student currently on my Ob/Gyn rotation. I came into medical school with a completely open mind because I wanted to enjoy every rotation. After my internal medicine and surgery rotations, I was left totally confused because I liked both (General surgery and cardiology) but they are completely different specialties. Now, on my OB/GYN rotation, I appreciate the combination of both specialties and I have fallen in love with the specialty. At this point, I am thinking about the “unpopular and hectic Ob/Gyn lifestyle” and beginning to have doubts. Also, with the new laborist movement, the future of OB/GYN as it pertains to patient care/continuity is quite uncertain because it’s an experiment. I enjoy the patient-doctor relationship, possess manual dexterity, I enjoy the thrill of invasive procedures, (hence, the reason that I loved surgery) but at the same time, I value family life and want to present to be a good mother and wife for my family. I have come to realize that it’s quite difficult to balance the two. I am trying to gain your perspective on which specialty (OB/GYN, Cardiology, or general surgery) has the better lifestyle?


linzy March 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm

I really like this website, it let me find half of my answers for my work.


jose March 11, 2012 at 12:40 am

Hello there, I am currently a high school student and am fascinated in medicine and surgery. My question is that I think I’m doing very well in high school and I would like to know what type of student you were in high school? What classes did you take? AP, honors?


Osvaldo reynoso March 8, 2012 at 8:27 pm

What college or university did you go to? Or wich one do u recomend in Texas


Joseph Farrell February 24, 2012 at 10:28 am

Hey Doc. I am currently going to a community college for Psychology and I am switching my major to Nursing. I want to tell you my plan, and I am hoping if you’d be able to tell me if it’s possible to achieve. I want to get an associates degree for nursing, take the nursing test, become an RN, and get a job as a Nurse. During working as a nurse I want to go back to school too get my bachelors for Nursing, then I want to apply to Med School. The path as a Nurse, that’d help me a lot wouldn’t it? And I want to eventually become a General Surgeon or a Neurosurgeon. I had medical problems, I went to the hospital 8 times over a 3 year period for stomach pains around the appendix. Then I needed surgery for something unrelated and I told that doctor I had problems with my appendix. He talked to the surgeon and they did both surgeries in one operation. I took that as a calling into the medical field.

Also How much money were you in debt from med school when you finished? And were you able to pay that off pretty quick?

And one last question, how long is Residency as a General Surgeon, compared to a Neurosurgeon?

Thanks Doc!


Divine February 24, 2012 at 10:26 am

i just wanted to thank DOCSurgeon for his answers to our questions and for striving to put us in the right career path…THank you so much!


Maureen February 24, 2012 at 10:26 am

Thank you very much! I only decided to start on the medical field a fair time ago, so although my grades have always been pretty good, only now have I begun to get really serious. My goal for my 8th-grade year is to get all straight A’s, & so far that is going well! I may need to work the way I spend my time…I guess that’s one study habit I have to work on!
The sciences and math I think will go quite smoothly, but will there be any extra classes I may need to take in high school or college?
As for extracurricular activities…haha, I don’t think there’s much need to worry there. (^_^)
Again, thank you very much for your advice. I look forward to reaching past this goal!


DocSurgeon February 24, 2012 at 10:25 am

Dear Maureen,
Several years ago I would have answered your inquiry with a flippant “You are too young to worry about the future-go enjoy yourself”. That was then, and now is the 21st Century!
I believe you are showing great maturity by thinking about what the future holds, and how you can make your way in this world, at your young age. My deciding moment of wanting to be a doctor was not until late in my high school years, but there are many facets of your future, hopefully in medicine as a surgeon, you can put in motion now.
First, start good study habits. These are learned and are not something we are born with. There are many sources of what you need to develop to have these study skills, and I refer you to your teachers, the library, the internet, and, oh yea, your parents for some pointers.
Next, get firm basis in the life sciences, math and physics. As I have said before, this is the basis for most medical school instruction, and is essential for the future physician. Often you can earn college credits for your study during your high school years, and I encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities.
Thirdly, develop extracurricular interests, both in athletics and non-athletic fields. They are not only fun, but help give you the “well-rounded” experience that many schools like in their medical students. Plus, it helps you to develop the social side of your personality.
You are developing the friends you will enjoy for the rest of your life. In the coming years, make wise personal decisions, don’t do anything illegal or otherwise “stupid” and you will be well on your way for your career in medicine or any other field your heart leads you.
Best wishes and good luck,


Maureen February 24, 2012 at 10:24 am

Hello, DocSurgeon. I am a middle-school student, in the eighth grade, and this summer I’ll be looking forward to my first year of high school. I want to become a general surgeon, and I believe I may have the perseverance to carry out that dream. But I would like to know what exact classes I should take right now, or in the near future, to carry on into the medical field. I would appreciate it very much, and I honestly admire your career as a surgeon. Thank you!


DocSurgeon February 24, 2012 at 10:23 am

Dear Aly,
I know several physicians who were nurses prior to going to medical school. I joked that when they worked side-by-side with physicians, they realized that doctors weren’t smarter than they were, but simply worked harder than most other people to get where they wanted to be.
By your experience so far, you will have a better understanding of the contributions nurses and nurses assistants give to medicine.
Although nursing programs are stressing more study of life sciences, you will still need the extra courses in math, chemistry and physics for medical school. I would check with a counselor, but I bet you would need an additional year or two of college to do both nursing and take the required courses for medical school. This is ultimately a decision you must make about how you would use the extra time.
Another consideration is if you would be able to work while you attended school. Also, although the nursing experience is great, because of the demands on study time, I doubt you will be able to work in the field while you are in medical school.
Two great fields of medicine to consider.
Thanks for you interest, and good luck.


Aly February 24, 2012 at 10:22 am

Dear DocSurgeon

I am currently a high school student, taking a technical career as a medical assistant and have earned my certificate as a nursing assistant while still in high school. I am deeply interested in the medical field, especially surgery. I was thinking on getting a nursing degree before med school, but as an experienced medical professional, what would be the best choice for a bachelor degree before med school? I truly admire your career.
Thank you.


DocSurgeon January 24, 2012 at 10:44 am

I got a little behind in my “correspondence” so I will try and answer the three questions above.
Dear Stephen, Divine, and Sebastian:
You should concentrate on the life sciences in high school and college. Keep well-rounded with study of other subjects (literature, history for a few examples) but a strong background in biology, chemistry, physics and math are important for acceptance into medical school.
The undergraduate college you go to is not as important as how well you do at college, and your MCAT scores. Try to excel wherever you go.
Pay for surgeons is generally set by insurance companies and Medicare. At this time, to my knowledge, there is no difference for pay for a board certified general surgeon who does colon surgery, for example, and a surgeon who also has his colo-rectal fellowship. Some of us like the broad spectrum of surgery and some want to narrow their scope of practice by doing fellowships. It is a personal matter for the individual.
The length of the fellowships are generally from 1 to 3 years, depending on specialty.
We always joke that surgeons must be “slow learners” since surgery is a 25 year program : 12 years of secondary school, 4 years college, 4 years of medical school and 5 years of residency. It sounds worse than it is since the time passes quickly (really!)
You go from paying in to receiving pay during your internship and residency years. Most programs pay what teachers make or better, along with benefits. I am so far away from that aspect, I will defer the exact dollar figure to the program you enter.
The future is never known, but my words of wisdom are simple: find something you like or love to do, work and study hard to be the best you can be, and then hopefully you will look back after many years of “work” and be satisfied in your career decision.
For me, that has been a life as a general surgeon. For you, it may be something similar or different.
Good luck and best wishes,


sebastian January 23, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Dear DocSurgeon,

I am a current high school student with the hopes of one day becoming a general surgeon. I know it won’t be easy but my passion to do so pushes through that. I read this whole thread and was immediately hooked after reading you experiences and everyday surgeon lifestyle. The only answer that really astonished me was when you said it’s a 25 year training and studying career! Your answers really helped me in deciding whether this was the career I really wanted to choose and i thank you for that. Now my big question is…when though out your 25 years of training did you start earning a descent income? The only thing that really worries me are the fees that follows along after committing to becoming a doctor!

Thanks a lot ,

p.s – i completely agree with your last answer on the thread!:)


divine January 21, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Hi DocSurgeon
I was wondering how much you get paid if you are a general surgeon and did not do the fellowship program. And how many years are required if you do the fellowship program. Thank you!


Stephen January 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Dear Docsurgeon,
I am a Junior in high school still learning about the whole college search process and how everything works and recently I’ve been quite interested into becoming either a neurosurgeon or a general surgeon. Could you please explain to me what specific classes to really focus on and how med school rotation works? And also maybe for reference what colleges you went to?


DocSurgeon January 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Dear Devun,
Another interesting question.
I did a year ER between my internship and residency. During that time, I noticed that the physicians in the hospital and ER in the middle of the night were the OB doctors (obvious) and the FP/internist-types, who were taking care of severe diabetics, COPD, and heart attacks. Rarely did I see surgeons. The most common surgical ER patient had a acute attack of their gallbladder, and were put on antibiotics and IV’s and “I’ll see them in the morning”.
Certainly it is not all this simple, but I have spent many more nights at home, while on call, than in the hospital or operating room.
I also have surrounded myself with good partners-first just one and now expanded to four other surgeons, who make my life very tolerable.
The question about marriage is another one that we could fill a book with.
Nationwide, half of marriages end in divorce. I think we should require counseling and a $10,000 marriage license and make people think about marriage before making the leap, which is often hormone-fueled. Also, if you haven’t had children, I also think marriage should have a three year no-fault out clause, for those who are truly not compatible. Needless to say, my ideas often clash with my wife and others :).
Your professional and personal life are, in my opinion, fully at your control. Work + planning = satisfaction. Three of the five in my practice are “still” on their first marriage, and two out of three orthopedic surgeons are also. A little better than the 50% average. I have been happy with my time for family, community involvement (very important) and personal time.
[By the way, a favorite book of mine is by Andy Andrews “The Traveler’s Gift”. A short but good read about life decisions.]
Chose your career path for what makes you happy, especially when the 2 a.m. calls come.
I am 2-3 hours from a large metro area, and the longer I live in a smaller town, the less I want to visit there. It is nice to have a place to send your train wreck patients and to go for theater/entertainment, but this is an individual thing. Again, work for where you want to live, since you are in control of such decisions.
Residencies are great years of learning and doing. As far as saneness in residency, use your free time for socially and mentally stimulating activities with people you love to be around. Most cities will have sports, plays, concerts you will enjoy, especially if you seek them out. Some staff will have tickets for special events (not every surgeon can be dragged to every symphony by his or her wife), so search for such opportunities.
Do not be afraid to ask these same questions of each of the attending you work with during your medical school rotations. They are supposed to be mentors, not simply instructors, and I am sure they will enjoy sharing their feeling and opinions with you.
Good luck and best wishes.



trave45 January 19, 2012 at 11:30 am

Doc Surgeon,

We’ve now enabled nested comments to reply directly to the user if you so choose. Thanks for your active participation in the JobShadow community!

JobShadow Team


Devun January 13, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Dear Doc Surgeon,

Thanks for posting so candidly about your experience!! I really appreciate it!

I’m a 33 year-old single male, currently an MS3, finishing up rotations. I’m want to pursue surgery (general vs. ortho vs. vascular), but I also hope to meet someone one day and settle down, and start a family. My worry is that the demands of surgery are too great for that. Also, many of the surgeons I know at my hospital are either divorced or single with no children. However, many of them are also happily married with families. This fear (possibly unfounded) has led me to think about IM and family med instead.

My question is: in your area, do you see many happily married surgeons with normal family lives, or are many established surgeons single or divorced? What about the closest major metropolitan area near you? What advice could you give for staying sane during residency?

Thank you so much for your candid answers; I know the ultimate decision on whether or not to enter surgery is my own, but I sincerely appreciate your insight and candid advice!



DocSurgeon January 8, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Dear Jonathan,
When i was looking for ways to finance medical school, I seriously looked at an Air Force scholarship. At the time, the payback was 3 to 1, meaning I would owe 12 years for my medical school. The tuition was relatively low then (the $3000 a year was still a grand sum for me to come up with), and I eventually decided to borrow the money, work as an extern at local hospitals during medical school and stay the civilian route. I came out of school as the Viet Nam war was winding down, and the military did not need additional physicians at that time.
Now, fast forward to today. The cost of medical school tuition, even in most state schools, is astronomical. In addition, tack on some living expenses. Several hundred thousand dollars in total debt is not unlikely today.
Many students are strongly considering the military, with some applying for the military medical school itself. I understand the payback is one for one, so you pay back 4 years after any residency. You can finish medical school nearly debt free, which is a wonderful thing.
You can simply pay back the time as a General Medical Officer or Flight Surgeon or apply for residency and pay back the time when you finish the residency. Residencies are harder to get in the military, since you fill specialties the military needs. If you do a military residency, you generally are there at a higher rank and pay grade, often making more money than civilian residencies. General Surgery and Orthopedic residencies are highly sought after, and not everyone who applies is accepted. Simply remember you are in the service and the military makes the rules, and determines their manpower needs.
If I were at the door of medical school today and as poor as I was back when, I would seriously look at the same opportunities you are looking for now, especially since the payback is 4 years. But as in all things, throughly research the field so there will be no regrets.
As far as other questions, I am glad to answer any question and be of any help I can, and usually your question may help someone else who is considering this career path. Simply use this website as a way to reach me.

Take care and good luck.


Jonathan Hanson January 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm


Thank you very much for the interview. I am thinking about becoming a General Surgeon/ Orthopedic Surgeon, but as to what route I am taking I am not sure yet. I may be going through the Air Force to help financially. Are there any tips besides what was provided in the interview to help me go through this path, and is there a way to contact you with further questions?

God bless,
Jonathan Hanson


DocSurgeon December 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Dear Jinelle,
How each physician finally gets into their comfort space of their specialty is in itself a unique story for each physician. If you continue to pursue your education through medical school (and I sincerely hope you do), you will probably change your mind several times. The reasons you will change your mind are your interest in the diseases a certain specialty treats, or a charismatic attending staff, or perhaps an opportunity to practice in a certain area or with a certain person who wants a good partner to work with or take over their practice. Sometime during your medical school rotations your choice will be obvious and easy, but you are a few years away from that now.
Work hard, have good work habits and ethics, and don’t forget to have some fun along the way.
Best wishes.


Jinelle December 28, 2011 at 10:40 pm

I am trying to choose between becoming a neurosurgeon, family doctor or general surgeon. Which one would you advice me to pursue? I get good grades, I am 14, I aim to make it on my schools honour roll for this year and the years to come plus i want to pursue either one of these when i graduate high school.


Kelly December 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Thank you for doing this interview.

I am an EMT and am pre-med in college already. I always thought I would be an E.R. Doctor, and possibly a Trauma Surgeon, but I have been reading lately, and Trauma is more of a specialty after residency. Plus I love nephrology and find it fascinating. Thank you for the insight, I am kind of steering toward general surgery, because then I can do a bit of both.

:] God bless!


DocSurgeon December 15, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Dear Abigail,
I am glad your community offers such a fine program as the Central Arizona College Promise for the Future. This is a great way to start any educational pursuit, and you are smart to use the resource.
For others who know little about this program, I refer you to their site:
I am glad you are interested in general surgery, but I want to stress to everyone there are many ways to help others in medicine without being a surgeon. I work daily with many nursing assistants, secretaries, nurses and technicians who use their talents to help others. Many of these fields are obtainable with fewer years of study than becoming a surgeon.
Your increased responsibilities as a single parent will also provide many additional challenges which are surmountable, especially if you have a supporting family. I work with two physicians in my hospital who started as single parents, then they became nursing assistants, earned their LPN and then the RN degree, before going on to medical school. It can be done!
Your first two years at CAC are going to be a good start to any profession you desire. Start early with your planning with your college adviser. Becoming a surgeon will require 4 years of college, four of medical school, and then on to your specialty program if desired.
This is a hard but obtainable program of study. Good luck to you.


Abigail December 15, 2011 at 11:23 am

I am a senior in high school and a teenage mother, I will be graduating in January and starting college. Starting at CAC (promise for the future) and working my way up. I have taken a special interest in being a genreal surgeon just simply because I want to be able to help others and provide for my daughter. I was wondering what are the requirements and how long will it take me if I buckle down and work my hardest?


DocSurgeon December 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Dear Jennifer,
I do not know of anyone who has gone the military route, but I think it is one to study closely. The costs of medical schools are so high it makes it very hard to pay the money back. During my research of your question, I came upon two different sites I refer you to, which I hope are helpful.
As far as your career choice, I think OB/GYN is a great field to consider. Like other specialties, I believe sharing a practice with several others had definite advantages for covering call and allowing for a normalcy of living, so you are not on call all the time.
There are many couple who are physicians and surgeons who share the responsibilities of their families and do this very well. It is hard work, but can be accomplished. I encourage you to talk to couples at your medical school. I am sure there are forums on the web to explore.
Good luck to both of you.

Dear Eric,
I am glad you are looking to your future.
A major in one of the life sciences (biology or chemistry) usually covers most of the requirements of admission to medical school. Check out this very good site about medical school admission I noted in a previous question:
My residency years were some of the hardest of my life. They were also some of the most rewarding. Some weeks were over 110 hours , but this has now been restricted to 80 hours (to the detriment, in my opinion, of medical and surgical education). The skills learned and the people we helped still was a most rewarding part of my career.
The American College of Surgeons has a good website about surgical careers and residencies (directed at the medical student) you might like to look at, even at your early stage of your career:
Thanks for your interest and good luck.


kunzang December 5, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Thank you so much for your help DOCSURGEON 🙂


Eric December 3, 2011 at 7:23 pm


I’m a High School student planning on becoming a Surgeon and this specialty is my #1 up to now. I have trouble deciding which major to pursue.

As a surgeon, which major would you recommend?
What can you say about your residency years?


Jennifer December 2, 2011 at 9:09 am


My boyfriend has a strong desire to go into general surgery and he’s also thinking about joining the military to pay off student loans. Do you know anyone who has taken this route?

Another thing is that I’m considering a career in ob-gyn but have heard the hours are dreadful and now I’m concerned about not having enough time for a decent family life in the future. I know that having two doctors in a household can be very difficult to manage a balanced lifestyle.


DocSurgeon November 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Dear Mike,
Thank you for a very good question that allows for us to discuss “rural” general surgery.
I live in a mid-western town of about 12,000. This is deceiving as far as our medical community is concerned, since we are a referral center for a large area around us. We are about two to 2 1/2 hours from a larger referral center, and most of put patients want to stay local. This allows us some “medical isolation” while still allowing for the “benefits” of visiting a larger city when we want to, or referral of problem patients when needed. I believe each state has many hospitals like ours which depend on the general-well-trained surgeon. What you do in your own private practice will depend on your training and talents as a surgeon.

Your ability to have such a practice is dependent on many factors: first is where you train. I encourage you to Google “rural general surgery” and see what you find. One of my good friends is head of the program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where they have a good program on rural surgery. Also the University of Oregon has become known for programs for this. Many surgery programs are recognizing the need for specialized training for those who venture outside the comforts of the major medical centers.

Secondly, you need to have the right person to practice with. These, and other programs, are always being solicited by surgeons looking for partners. I am glad I went into practice with another well trained “rural” surgeon, and I now have several other partners to share call and expenses with. Definitely makes your life easier.

Medicine is changing quickly, and I think the general surgeon, both in the rural and urban setting, will continue to be a valuable and sought-after part of the medical community.

Thank you for your interest and good luck.


Mike November 27, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Hello DocSurgeon,

I am very interested in the possibility of practicing broad-spectrum, general surgery. Given the hyper-specialization that characterizes much of modern medicine, I am happy to know general surgery can still be practiced in some communities.

What is the population of the community that you practice in? How far do you live from surgical specialists that would otherwise compete with you for certain operations? I’m trying to get a sense of just how rural a community needs to be before practicing true general surgery is a realistic option.

Thank you for your time and for this inspiring interview.



DocSurgeon November 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Dear Kunzang,
Thank you for your question. It allowed me the opportunity to learn more of your medical education.
The MBBS is a medical degree that stands for “Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery”. The degree is offered in many countries outside of the U.S., where we earn the Doctor of Medicine degree. MBBS graduates are called the professional name of “Doctor” and then go on to specialize in various medical fields.
I also discovered that in China, where you are studying, there are schools which offer MBBS degrees with classes in English, evidently to attract Western students. Very interesting.
I know little from my own personal knowledge of the IMG pathways to residency and medical training in the U.S., but I did find two legitimate sites for your review.
The American Medical Association has a division on International Medical Graduates.
Check out: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/about-ama/our-people/member-groups-sections/international-medical-graduates.page
Another organization helping international (or foreign) medical graduates is the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates. Their site is: http://www.ecfmg.org/eras/
To get the best residency, you must make sure your skills (medical, language, and personal) are the best possible. There are plenty of residency opportunities for the IMG in the U.S. I hope you are able to accomplish your dream.
Hope this helps. Good luck to you.


kunzang November 17, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Dear DocSurgeon,

I am currently in 2nd year MBBS in China and I am an Indian. I was wandering what steps I need to take after finishing MBBS (with a Dr. degree) to become a general surgeon and then maybe a neuro or cardio surgeon in the US?
Do you recommend any good universities for my further studies?

Thank you!


DocSurgeon November 17, 2011 at 10:00 am

Dear Melissa,
Thanks for your interest in surgery. Some of my comments on cardiovascular surgery are above in my reply to Chem and Joseph, and I am glad to give additional info.
CV surgery is a branch of surgery that requires a general surgery residency (5 years) plus an additional 2-3 years of training. A good site for this branch of surgery can be found at: http://www.schoolsintheusa.com/careerprofiles_details.cfm?carid=509
The site is an advertisement for various online schools, but the info there is generally good. I think CV surgery is a very good professional choice, and I think the future of CV surgery is still strong, although we will be using different techniques (more endoscopy and less scalpel) in the future.
Good luck to you.


melissa November 17, 2011 at 8:56 am

I’m interested in becoming a surgeon. Right now I think it would be interesting to be a Cardiovascular sergeon, but i cannot find information on it.


DocSurgeon November 15, 2011 at 7:35 am


Dear Nick,
Yes, medical school is hard. This is why the schools want to make sure their applicants are well educated during their college years, and are properly focused for the time in med school. All of your courses are graduate courses. Often, you will be taking 15-18 graduate hours of class a semester, which is truly a heavy load. I believe everyone who starts medical school feels overwhelmed, but it is amazing what the human brain can accomplish by hard work and good study habits. Those years in medical school were some of the most rewarding of my life, mainly because I was learning so much. Do not underestimate what you can accomplish-I am sure you will do well in whatever you set your mind to. Good luck.


Ana November 14, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Dear DocSurgeon,

Thank you for your kind reply. I have just found a MASH program in my area. I will definitely have my kids talk to our physician and I hope to find a surgeon as accessible as you to talk to.



DocSurgeon November 14, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Motivation of your own children often seems as hard as herding cats. Your children are lucky to have a Mom who is interested in their success, and that is a real start. I was lucky to have sons who were interested in school, and their Mother was a very important part of their subsequent success (both are on their own and doing well). They did not choose to follow me into medicine, but they chose fields in which they are happy.
I was encouraged for medicine by the career day held each year at my high school, and that is perhaps an option for you, even if you have to spear-head the project. Our local community has a “MASH” program which, for two weeks in the summer, gives high school students exposure to all fields of medicine, from physical therapy to nursing to surgery. Contact your local hospital about such programs.
I would also tell you to discuss this with your family physician or a friend who is a doctor. I am sure they would be happy to help mentor your budding medical workers-I was lucky to have several in my community who took an interest in me.
Best wishes to you. Hope this helps.


Ana November 14, 2011 at 9:09 am

Dear Docsurgeon,

First thank you for answering everybody question so promptly. I am a mother and looking at my kids future with a lot of dedication. I know that they will, God’s will, make their own decision, but what can I do to increase their interest in the medical field and show them all of the possibilities. Also how can I motivate more for getting better grades?
And finally how did you personally got involved in your children’s education?
And is there any way to get my kids to meet with doctors and talk to them, I know how difficult it can be knowing their busy schedule.

Thank you so much for the insight and great advices so far.


Nick r. November 12, 2011 at 6:24 am

I read your post and i truly think that the medical field is what i want to do. General Surgery sounds like a very rewarding profession. I enjoy being able to help people and i’m fascinated by surgery and everything else in the medical field. My question is regarding Medical School. Is it like a very hard school to pass, i read some articles where people mention that medical school is the hardest thing they’ve ever done. I’m a little worried that i might not be able to understand what’s goin on or i’m not as skilled as other people. How was it for you?


DocSurgeon November 7, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Dear Joanna,
You are smart to look ahead and make plans for the MCAT. This test has changed so much since I took it (in the Dark Ages) I can offer little help. I do know that preparation is needed, since the test has certain quirks that need to be known before you take it. Many of the young physicians I know say they benefited from a course such as the Kaplan to improve their scores. Although you can take it multiple times, I also have heard that medical schools place more weight on your first test score, so you need to try to ace it the first time.
I am a big fan of community college education. They allow students to live at home to save money, and the cost is much less than state or private four-year schools. I assume you will study there for the first two years, and then transfer. You must do well right from the start, with your success allowing for transfer to a college of university, hopefully with a large scholarship. As I have said, every school has a rating with medical schools. Visit the admissions office of your state medical school to learn which schools they have the best success with their graduates, and then consider transferring to these schools.
Best of luck to you.


Joanna November 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Hello Dr.

I am a freshman in college, and am very interested in pursuing a career in medicine. I’ve wanted to become a doctor since i was a small child.

My questions are:
1. what do you suggest studying from for the mcat. I want to get a head start.
2. I am unfortunately at a community college, will that hamper my chances at getting into medical school?


DocSurgeon November 6, 2011 at 8:00 pm

In college, I majored in chemistry and minored in history. I looked at various schools I wanted to apply to and made sure I had those courses. I like history, and medical schools want their students to be well rounded in education, so it fit for me. Again, check for the latest requirements for the schools you wish to attend.
My “top five” surgeries involve the gallstones and gallbladder removal; hernias (groin and incisional); breast surgery for both benign and malignant lesions; colon and rectal surgery for polyps, cancers and diverticulitis; and thyroid and parathyroid problems.
Thanks for your questions and good luck.


Marcus Williams November 6, 2011 at 10:34 am

What did you major in to become a General Surgeon? Also, what surgeries do you dio as a general surgeon?

Thank You In Advance,


DocSurgeon November 3, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Dear Dramirrr,
I consider plastic surgery as a sub-specialty field of surgery, since most plastic surgeons go through a GS residency first, and then study plastic surgery for an additional two or three years of residency. There are now some plastic surgery only residency programs in the U.S., in which only plastic surgery is studied during a five or six year residency.
I refer you to this site from the American College of Surgeons:
Here you will find good information about the types of plastic surgery programs and about what plastic surgery encompasses.
Thank you for your interest.


Dramirrr November 2, 2011 at 6:51 am

hi.i want to know about plastic surgery.do you know as a general surgeon how can one go to plastic surgery? is it a specialty or subspecialty?i also loveeeeeeeeeee general surgery:X:X:X i will do anything to go to that field.it was so hopeful to read your interview!!:)thanks in advance for answering my questions:)

good luck


DocSurgeon October 30, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Dear Curious,
I checked with the American Association of Medical Colleges site [https://www.aamc.org/students/considering/gettingin/] which said most schools require physics in their applicant’s college curriculum. That said, you would need to check with the individual schools to check out their requirements.
Good luck


Curious October 30, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Hi, I just wanted to know if you require physics to become a General Surgeon.
Thanks in advance (:


DocSurgeon October 19, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Dear Maricela,
I am glad you had a good General Surgeon to help you with your surgeries, and hope you are doing well. The road to being a Surgeon is long and hard, and I can tell you there are countless tests along the way. Hard study throughout your high school and college, and getting good grades will be required. I am not sure if you ever get to the “last test”, unless it is when you decide to retire. Medicine is a lifelong profession of learning (and tests!).
Most physicians major in the sciences in college, with chemistry and biology being favorites. [I had a major in chemistry and a minor in history]. I went to medical school with some literature and sociology majors, but the had a harder time than those of us who studied science in college. Again, your college counselor or the medical school admissions office can be of great help to you.
Good luck.


maricela nunez October 19, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Hi, Doc Surgeon I am in high school, and i want to be a general surgeon. I dont really care about the salary. The thing that im most concern about is what kind of test are required to become this career?? I always loved to see blood ,but i also like to help people feel better… also i already had two surgerys, one was of gull stones, and a overian mass, when i was told i needed surgery i couldn’t believe it!, but when i got out of the surgery and was in recovery… i thought to myself, and said ” KNOW I KNOW WHAT I WANT TO BECOME” i want to a surgeonist, but not just any type of surgeonist I WANT TO BE A GENERAL SURGEONIST. All i want to know is how many test are required to become this career and what majors??

sincerally, Maricela Nunez.


Ralph meshack October 13, 2011 at 12:04 am

I am still in form one but enjoy career proffesion of being a neurosurgeon.with the much pieces of advice that i have read you giving out to the aspirants i am inspired and kind let me know how i can lay a strong foundation towards meeting my dream. I have always had the dream ever since class four now that am in high school i need ur advice please


DocSurgeon October 2, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Dear Chem and Joseph,
Thank you for your recent questions. Since they both are on similar subjects, I will try and answer them together.
Joseph, since I am not a cardiothoracic surgeon I am not the best person to answer your question about that specialty. I, like many others, turn to the Web. I tried Google for the answer, and for once found more answers on Bing. You can also go and Bing; “Future of thoracic surgery”. One good answer was from Dr. Edward Verrier [http://www.aats.org/TSR/Cardiothoracic-Surgeon/The-Future-of-Cardiothoracic-Surgery.html]
From my limited view, there are many new technologies coming to this specialty: catheter based valve replacement, robotic surgery, minimally invasive heart surgery. I will assure you these fields will change many times by the time you both have finished your training, and CT surgery will continue to be a very valuable surgical specialty.
As to Chem’s queston; I am sure you will find many parts of your training will be with surgeries you will want to do, even if you have specialized in cardiothoracic surgery. In most places this is difficult, since the demands of the more specialized training is very great, and you will be busy in that field. I am sure you can do this, but a way to keep your skills in General Surgery would be to do some overseas volunteer surgery from time to time-your surgical skills would be very welcome throughout the world.
Thank you for your interest, and good luck.


joseph September 17, 2011 at 6:38 am

Dear Doc surgeon,

Sorry for annoying you with my questions . I have heard from many doctors that the cardiothoracic surgery field is going to disappear or die after some years , esp that alot of diseases in the heart have been treated by procedures done by the cardiologists . Doc , I’d be very happy if you tell me your opinion regarding the future of cardiothoracic surgery .

Thanks again , Doc surgeon


Chem September 17, 2011 at 3:31 am

Greetings Doc,
I would like to first say thank you for all the advice you are offering to us aspiring surgeons, I just finished high school and am personally am very greatful for helping me look forward to the surgical road ahead!
Doc, my question is, if I first did general surgery and then specialised in cardiac surgery, would i still get to operate on general surgery cases even though my specialty would now be cardiac surgery?
I’d like to operate on people’s hearts, but I don’t want to miss out on other surgery cases. Your advice will be highly appreciated.
Thanks again, Doc Surgeon!


DocSurgeon September 11, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Dear Joshua
We all in medicine and surgery take the attitude that any patient can be infectious, and certainly such diseases as Hepatitis C and HIV are worries. In following universal precautions, I wear two pair of gloves, complete gown and eye glasses when in surgery and during trauma triage. I have had a needle stick or two with Hepatitis C patients and have found out the possibility of infection is very low, and have had followup blood tests that are OK. That said, every profession has it’s own occupational hazards. The very low risk of such infections is an occupational hazard of surgery, and one I accept and deal with daily, but without great worry. Surgery is the ultimate hand-eye coordination, and you take precautions with your staff to assure safety of all members of the OR crew.
I do not know of anyone who has had such an infection.


Joshua September 10, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Thanks for your positive words DocSurgeon. I hope I can report that I am accepted to medical school.

Something I have thought about is the risk of becoming infected with an infectious disease (such as HepC or HIV) while performing surgery. Is this something that you are highly concerned about, and have you ever personally known a surgeon that this has happened to? I realize this could happen to anyone, such as a phlebotomist or nurse, but it seems like the risk to surgeons would be the highest.

Once again thanks for taking time to share your opinions, I enjoyed reading the interview.


DocSurgeon September 10, 2011 at 6:17 am

Dear Joshua,
I believe your background in pharmacy will be an of great help to you in medical school and in a profession as a surgeon. We are bombarded with new medicines, especially antibiotics, for our practice, and you will have a definite advantage. Surgical oncology, the use of surgery and chemotherapy in the treatment of cancer, is a field that relies on such knowledge. Your age will not, in my opinion, be a problem, since you will bring so much to the table, including several more years of maturity. During the interviews for medical school, they will give bonus points for having shadowed various physicians and specialties (they want to make sure you know what you are getting in to), and I encourage you to state your “leanings” to surgery, though, as you said, you are keeping other options open.
Good luck. I look forward to hearing about your acceptance into medical school.


Joshua September 9, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Hello DocSurgeon,

I am an aspiring medical student. Currently I am wrapping up a 4 year PharmD program and I hope to start med school right after I graduate. I shadowed some surgeons this summer and I am heavily leaning towards surgery, it was the most exciting thing I have ever seen, but I will give other fields a try IF I get into medical school.

I am curious of your opinions about a pharmacist becoming a general (or other type of) surgeon. Do you think I will have difficulties matching into a surgical residency with more of a medicine/drugs background? Not to mention, I will be almost 30 when I am applying to residencies, will that hurt? Also, during my medical school interviews, do you think I should talk about how among the various specialties I shadowed, that surgery was by far my favorite? Or should I just talk about how I want to give everything a try, and see what I fit into best?



DocSurgeon August 31, 2011 at 11:43 am

Dear Joseph,
I have found out that General Surgery residencies are getting much more competitive, and there are many who did not match the first time. You need to reflect and try and find out why you did not match: could be a lower USMLE step 2 score, or not enough recommendations from surgical staff you worked with in medical school.
That said, I would first suggest you talk with the surgery residency director at the hospital or medical school you are now working, and see what advise he or she can give. I assume you are a hard working doctor, and that is who residencies want to take. They may help you decide whether to re-enter the match for surgery next year, or apply for a preliminary surgery position (such as the year ENT and orthopedic residents take) – I assume this is the transition year you refer to.
I talked to a friend who is residency director at our state school, and she said letters of recommendation from surgeons mean a lot. You can get these as a internal medical resident also, if you work hard and impress the surgery staff with your work ethic and knowledge. You can also talk with those programs you tried to match, and see if they have suggestions. Often, situations change, and a resident drops out. Let them know of your interest and desire to be a surgeon.
I hope something works out for you.
Good luck.


joseph August 31, 2011 at 8:12 am

Dear Doc surgeon,

I am on my first year in internal medicine residency, but my desire to become a general surgeon, but I didn’t get it in my matching system last year . Many people advice me to apply for transitional year. Do you think doctor that I can get it after the transitional yeat , what do you advice me to do in order to have the chance to become a general surgeon ?

Thank you for your time and advice.


DocSurgeon August 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Dear Jonathan,
Competition for medical school admission is tough, and the schools only want to admit students they feel can take the heat of the courses and log hours of study. That said, grades are one measure of this. In general, medical students have grade point averages of 3.5 (A-) or better and MCAT scores of 27 or better, but this varies from school to school. They all have interview processes that allow them to view the personality and desire of the applicant, which are important characteristics for a successful medical student. Many schools also require some volunteer work during college. Again, check with you college counselor or with the medical school admissions office for more information.


Jonathan August 22, 2011 at 10:33 am

I’ve a question
1.what would you consider good grades?
Honor roll? Straight A’s?


DocSurgeon August 7, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Dear Flight Doc,
First, I want to thank you for serving your country. I have it too good compared to those of you who put it all on the line every day. Glad to hear you are interested in Surgery.
Surgery has and is changing rapidly. I am doing things very differently than I did when I started over 30 years ago. Some changes for the good, some not so good.
That being said, Surgery is still a great field to be in. I have made time for family, mainly by restricting what I did in free time while our sons were younger-little fishing, hunting and golf. Don’t regret for a minute my decisions and time spent with my family. My wife and I were involved in their sports and Scouting-we both were Scout leaders and advisors when they went to Philmont. Helping to guide them to their Eagle Scout rank is still something I am proud of. I am now trying to catch up on my hobbies.
You will have many decisions to make. Use your time wisely and you can get much done. Remember, by getting an early start, the surgeon has at least 26 hours to their day!
Two fields that are coming on strong is that of the surgical hospitalist and trauma surgery specialty. Both let you use your surgical skills, both in the OR and at the bedside, but they are much like the ER in that you have set hours on call and off. You take care of the sick and trauma patients who come to the hospital. I am not sure, but I think they have some office time to see patients post-op. You are often an employee of the hospital, and there are more and more surgeons taking this route because of escalating overhead costs. Definitely a topic to pursue as far as limiting of your time away from family.
I did some ER medicine before I went to my surgery residency. It is a great field, but I am glad I went the General Surgery route.
First and foremost, do something you love, keep your values straight, and manage you time well.
Good luck with your decision. Always glad to answer any question you may have.


Venkat August 7, 2011 at 11:38 am

Dear Doc Surgeon,

Sir/Ma’am, I am a Naval Flight Surgeon attached to the Marines who completed a General Surgery Internship, and am at the point in my career where I need to decide to either proceed with my PGY-2 year in Surgery or apply to other residencies. I have a lot of famliy/friends who are trying to persuade me to apply to Emergency Medicine programs, citing that I will be able to spend more time with my family and friends, and have more flexibility in my life. My interest and love, however, since medical school, was to become a Surgeon. My counter argument to my family/friends much of the time is that given the changing landscape of healthcare and the meddling by the Government/Health Insurance Complex, many General Surgeons are working as salaried employees of hospitals, making on the average $300-320 K and have some more free time than others have in the past. Do you agree with this, considering you are with a practice based setting, and how flexible do you believe the field of Surgery to be today? In the section, “What else would you like people to know about what you do,” you made mention of the importance of spending time for family. Of everything you could have mentioned in this section, you deemed that the most important. Is it possible for a young surgeon today to actually tailor his work schedule, esp. if a salaried employee, to have more flexibility in his/her schedule?

Thank you for your time and advice!

Very respectfully and Semper fi,

Navy/Marine Corps Flight Doc


DocSurgeon July 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Dear Kevin
Don’t get me started on taxes. The U. S. taxes most, those who work hardest the most but this is out of my control.
I have been able to provide a comfortable living for my family and have money for retirement and to support community needs. No regrets.
You will have many choices of places to do your residency training and ultimately the decision of where you live is all yours.
Good luck. Thanks for your question and interest.


Kevin July 28, 2011 at 1:13 am

About how much is the taxes? Is your living comfortable?
During reidenticy do you pick where to go and can you go to another state


DocSurgeon July 24, 2011 at 2:04 pm

How much your education costs is very variable, according to whether you go to a state or private undergraduate and medical school. Since I graduated from medical school many years ago, the costs have skyrocketed. All medical schools can give you an excellent education, according to how hard you apply yourself. Do well and you can usually get a residency at any place you want.
You start making money, though, after you graduate from medical school and start your surgical residency. The pay scale is readily available on the internet [Google “average pay for surgery residents”] and you will find they pay starts in the low to middle $40K range.
Remember, don’t go into any profession, medical or otherwise, simply for the money. Make sure it is something you enjoy. Fortunately for me, I do enjoy my profession.
Thanks for your interest and good luck.


Deven July 24, 2011 at 12:29 pm

how much did you have to pay for your schools to be a surgeon and at what age did you start to work as a surgeon?


DocSurgeon July 21, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Dear Cam,
Before you consider taking the MCAT, I would recommend you go to your state medical school and talk with the admissions office. Take a copy of your college transcript, since good grades and certain course work are the first step in getting in med school. They can advise you on the classes you need and what else you need to do to be considered for admission. Med school is still highly competitive, so good luck. If you plan to take the MCAT, planning on aceing the test (even using a service like Kaplan), since every score counts, not just your highest score. Good luck.


Cam July 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm

I have a few questions for a sergeon, i have worked in surgery at a very large hospital as a tech while taking full loads of college. However i am a nursing major at my current college. Although i would like to be a CRNA i have grown to love surgery from watching many of them. Since i am a nursing major could i still take the MCAT when i get ready to graduate from nursing just to see if i could score high enough to possibly make it into med school, or would that be pointless?


DocSurgeon June 22, 2011 at 9:23 am

During the five year surgery residency, the budding surgeon receives classroom lectures, on-the-job training both at the bedside and in surgery (hands-on training) and also has a great deal of reading and learning on their own. Many residencies are also using computer training for their resident surgeons.
In addition, surgery is a lifetime training program. We all attend continuing education and read extensively while in our practice.
Thanks for your interest in Surgery.


Gino Orellana June 21, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Hi, very interesting interview by the way. my question is, when you specialize in general surgery do students study from books and get experience from on hand surgeries?


The Surgeon April 11, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Dear Pedro,
Thanks for your interest. I agree that the money paid to General Surgeons is not as much as other fields, but I feel my chosen profession is rewarding in many other ways. I knew absolutely nothing about the financial side of surgery when I started. Today, I would make the same decision to be a Surgeon. Combining travel with humanitarian surgery is a practical combination, since you can deduct the cost of travel and some of the expenses. Look for a practice whose partners share your concern for others and who will cover your patients while you are absent. As far as student loans, some hospitals in the United States help with school loan repayment if you agree to practice at their hospital for a certain period of time. I know several surgeons who have taken advantage of this type of offer. I agree pro athletes and actors are over paid, just like I think teachers and nurses are underpaid. Not sure who made the rules. Pick a profession you love. and you will live a happy life.


Pedro April 11, 2011 at 10:49 am

Interesting field of medicine. I am willing to be a general surgeon to help my community, however the salary is really poor. How do am I suppose to get money to travel outside of this country to give extended care to people in poor countries who need help or have gone through a natural disaster. How will I be able to pay off the expensive loans that surge up with high interest and be able to go to sleep from the stress of that. Pro baseball players get paid $2million a year and actors that play the roles of a doctor get paid multimillions. Is there a rule book to do so that we can live happily as a doctor?


Claudia March 18, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Thanks a bunch! I finally understand it and how everything comes together. It makes a whole lot more sense. Thanks and good luck with everything!


DocSurgeon March 18, 2011 at 7:40 pm

During your five years of surgical residency, you learn how to take care of a surgical patient; before, during and after their surgery. You learn basic and advanced surgical skills which, combined with your knowledge of anatomy and various diseases, are used to perform an operation. Each operation may be able to be performed in several ways, and your own experience and training will lead you to the way you feel is best. Some General Surgeons specialize in one certain area: breast, colon, or vascular surgery (each with additional training years). As I said above, I am lucky to be able to do many different surgeries as a rural General Surgeon, and not limited to one field. I do not perform every surgery there is; I must be aware of my limitations and know when to send a patient to a larger medical center.
Good luck with your career search.


Claudia March 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Hi, im currently taking an advanced medical class in high school that offers us the first-hand experience in each medical field. I am extremely hooked with the idea of surgery, and I have high hopes for a future in General Surgery. Im kind of wondering, when you said all the procedures you can perform; does that mean you must always know how to do each one? I mean are you expected to know how to perform each surgery? Thanks for the info it really helps when applying for college. Thanks!


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