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Specialty Description

What is a general surgeon?

A general surgeon has principal expertise in the diagnosis and care of patients with diseases and disorders affecting the abdomen, digestive tract, endocrine system, breast, skin, and blood vessels. A general surgeon is also trained in the treatment of patients who are injured or critically ill, and in the care of pediatric and cancer patients. General surgeons are skilled in the use of minimally invasive techniques and endoscopies. Common conditions treated by general surgeons include hernias, gallstones, appendicitis, breast tumors, thyroid disorders, pancreatitis, bowel obstructions, colon inflammation, and colon cancer. Some general surgeons pursue additional training and specialize in the fields of Pediatric Surgery, Surgical Oncology, Vascular Surgery, Trauma Surgery, Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Transplant Surgery, and others.

Specialty training required prior to certification: Five years

Primary Specialty Certificate

Vascular Surgery A vascular surgeon has expertise in the diagnosis and management of patients with disorders of the arterial, venous, and lymphatic systems, excluding vessels of the brain and the heart. Certified vascular surgeons, have significant experience in providing comprehensive care to patients with all types of vascular disease, including diagnosis, medical treatment, and reconstructive vascular surgical and endovascular techniques. Common interventions performed by vascular surgeons include the opening of blocked arteries, repair of veins to improve circulation, treatment of aneurysms (bulges) in the aorta and other blood vessels, and treatment of vascular injuries. 

Specialty training required prior to certification: Five to seven years

What does a general surgeon do?

General surgery is a diverse specialty that is both the foundation for many surgical subspecialties and a distinct field in and unto itself. A fully trained general surgeon possesses the knowledge and ability to intervene on a variety of surgical issues across the life span, from the child with pyloric stenosis, to the victim of a gunshot wound to the chest, to the elderly patient with a recently diagnosed melanoma of the leg. Key characteristics of a sound general surgeon will include having broad understanding of anatomy and physiology paired with the technical skill to carry out appropriately selected procedures. This combination, while challenging to master, provides general surgeons with unparalleled opportunities to cure and palliate the ill, injured and suffering.

How much do general surgeons make?

While much is made of the traditionally demanding “surgical lifestyle,” the broad training and skill set possessed by the general surgeon permits one to craft a life that finds a balance between one’s career and personal desires. General surgeons have the opportunity to practice in any conceivable setting: inpatient, outpatient or clinic-based; urban or rural; military, government or civilian; academic or private practice. According to the American College of Surgeons, the average general surgeon works 50–60 hours per week, not including time on call, which varies depending on the specialty and practice setting chosen. General surgeons are well-compensated for their efforts, with an average annual salary of $251,890 according to 2017 data from the National Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How to become a general surgeon?

Specialty training required prior to certification: Five to seven years

General surgery training is currently a five-year endeavor. During residency, trainees will be exposed to general surgery as well as subspecialties, including cardiothoracic surgery, pediatric surgery, surgical critical care, surgical oncology, transplant surgery and vascular surgery. Upon completion of residency, general surgery residents have the opportunity to enter practice as a general surgeon or to further pursue specialty training in an impressive array of accredited and non-accredited fellowship programs. The fields are diverse in their scope and focus, with opportunities ranging from the highly specialized breast surgery to the broadly oriented field of acute care surgery. The American Board of Surgery provides certification and Maintenance of Certification in general surgery as well as the general surgery-based subspecialties of vascular surgery, pediatric surgery, surgical critical care, complex general surgical oncology, hand surgery, and hospice & palliative medicine. The remainder of the surgical subspecialties are certified by their respective specialty board or have no additional certification.

In the end, general surgery is a field of incredible diversity and opportunity. For the highly motivated individual with a strong work ethic and the desire to help people with his or her mind and hands, general surgery will provide a lifetime of challenge and fulfillment.