How to become a Bariatric Surgeon: A comprehensive guide

Updated on January 6, 2024

With obesity rates rising globally, bariatric surgery has become a increasingly popular weight loss option, fueling demand for qualified bariatric surgeons. Those considering this career path first need an M.D. or D.O. degree, requiring completion of medical school as outlined by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The next step is a 5-year general surgery residency program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Finally, a fellowship focused specifically on bariatric surgery is required – usually an additional 1-2 years learning procedures like gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, and gastric banding. This specialty training equips bariatric surgeons to meet the growing need for safe, effective bariatric surgical procedures.

What is a Bariatric Surgeon?

Bariatric surgeons are medical doctors specializing in weight loss surgery, also called bariatric surgery. They help obese patients lose weight and improve health through procedures that limit food intake or prevent nutrient absorption.

The most common surgeries today are gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, and gastric banding. Becoming a bariatric surgeon requires graduating from medical school, completing a 5-year general surgery residency, and finishing an extra 1-2 year bariatric fellowship (source).

Once in practice, surgeons determine if surgery is appropriate for each patient. If so, they discuss options, risks and benefits, expected outcomes, and pre and post-operative care details. The best bariatric surgeons support patients through nutrition, exercise, and behavioral changes needed for long-term weight loss success.

What does Bariatric Surgeon do?

Bariatric surgeons perform weight loss surgeries on obese patients to help them lose weight and improve their health. The procedures alter the gastrointestinal system to change how the body absorbs food.

There are a few main types of bariatric surgery procedures that surgeons perform:

In addition to the surgical procedures, bariatric surgeons also:

Educational Requirements for Becoming a Bariatric Surgeon

Educational Requirements

Becoming a bariatric surgeon requires an extensive amount of education and training. At a minimum, bariatric surgeons must complete the following:

Undergraduate Degree

The first step is obtaining a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Common majors for aspiring bariatric surgeons include biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or pre-med. Students should maintain high grades and take courses to prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Medical School

After completing an undergraduate program, bariatric surgeons must attend an accredited medical school and obtain their Medical Doctor (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. This involves an additional four years of education, including rotations and residencies in various medical specialties. Aspiring surgeons should complete a surgery rotation to gain experience in the operating room.

Residency Program

After medical school, surgeons must enter an accredited 5-year general surgery residency program for hands-on training. Here they will learn how to diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions that require surgical intervention. Residents progressively gain more responsibility under the supervision of experienced surgeons.

Fellowship Program

After completing their general surgery residency, bariatric surgeons pursue an additional 1-2 year fellowship program specifically focused on bariatric surgery. This advanced training teaches them to safely perform common weight loss procedures like gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, and gastric band placements.

Board Certification

Finally, bariatric surgeons must become board-certified by the American Board of Surgery (ABS). This involves passing a comprehensive exam to demonstrate extensive knowledge and surgical competency. Maintenance of board certification requires ongoing education and re-examination every ten years.

In summary, becoming a licensed and board-certified bariatric surgeon takes at least 11-12 years of education after high school – 4 years of undergraduate, four years of medical school, five years of general surgery residency, and 1-2 years of bariatric surgery fellowship. It’s a long road but very rewarding for those dedicated to helping patients through weight loss surgery.

Postgraduate Training for Bariatric Surgeons

Becoming a bariatric surgeon requires extensive training:

The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery has an advanced certification for bariatric surgeons with strict training, experience, and education requirements. This certification represents expertise in providing quality bariatric care.

When considering surgery, look for bariatric surgeons certified by the ASMBS, the highest standard in the field. This ensures surgeons have demonstrated specialized knowledge and skill in weight loss procedures and care.

Licensure and Certification

Becoming a bariatric surgeon requires extensive training and credentialing. After completing medical school and a 5-year general surgery residency, surgeons pursue additional fellowship training focused specifically on bariatric procedures. This advanced training is usually 1-2 years in length.

Licensure

Board certification

Recertification

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Bariatric Surgeon

A successful bariatric surgeon requires a specific set of skills and personal qualities to effectively help patients through weight loss procedures and recovery.

Technical Skills

Bariatric surgeons must have excellent technical skills to safely and effectively perform complex surgeries such as gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, and gastric banding. They need advanced training in minimally invasive surgical techniques such as laparoscopy. According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), bariatric surgeons should complete a fellowship in bariatric surgery after general surgery residency to develop specialized technical bariatric skills. Manual dexterity, depth perception, focused concentration, and precision are essential during surgery.

Patient Evaluation

Bariatric surgeons must properly evaluate patients to determine if they meet criteria and are appropriate candidates for weight loss procedures. This involves thoroughly reviewing medical history, assessing obesity-related health conditions, calculating BMI, evaluating lifestyle and nutrition, and developing a customized treatment plan. Strong analytical skills are needed to interpret all information and identify any red flags.

Communication Skills

Excellent communication skills allow bariatric surgeons to compassionately explain complex medical information when educating patients on surgical options, expected outcomes, potential risks and lifestyle changes required post-surgery. They must actively listen to patients, address all concerns, and ensure full understanding and realistic expectations before surgery. This establishes trust between patient and surgeon.

Leadership

Bariatric surgery requires coordination across a multi-disciplinary team including dietitians, psychologists, and nursing staff. Successful bariatric surgeons are able to lead their teams effectively throughout the entire surgical process from initial consult to post-op follow-up care. They are able to delegate tasks appropriately while maintaining strong oversight.

Personal Qualities

Some important personal qualities include:

Developing this blend of strong technical skills and patient-centered personal qualities allows bariatric surgeons to deliver safe, effective surgical treatment and support patients through transformational weight loss and improved health.

Bariatric Surgeon Salary

Bariatric surgery is a lucrative medical specialty with high demand fueling competitive salaries. According to recent data, the average annual salary for bariatric surgeons in the United States is $456,000 (MGMA).

Experience LevelAverage Annual Salary
Entry-level$230,000
5-10 years experience$350,000
10-20 years experience$475,000
20+ years experience$550,000

The top 10% of experienced bariatric surgeons can earn over $700,000 annually (PayScale).

Region also impacts pay, with the highest average salaries in the Pacific ($501K) and Middle Atlantic ($491K) regions (Becker’s Hospital Review). Those working in urban hospital settings tend to earn the most.

Though the training is extensive, bariatric surgery remains a highly lucrative career path given continual increasing demand for weight loss procedures. With obesity rising and surgery seen as an effective treatment, the field should remain financially rewarding for skilled surgeons.

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Becoming a bariatric surgeon opens up various career opportunities as demand for weight loss procedures continues growing globally. After completing medical training and a surgical residency, aspiring bariatric surgeons can complete a 1-2 year fellowship to specialize.

Once board certified, common career paths include:

There are over 200 bariatric fellowship programs in the US as this specialized field expands (ASMBS). Experienced bariatric surgeons have opportunities to advance through research, academics, advocacy in addition to clinical practice.

With extensive skills training and continually growing patient needs, bariatric surgery is a challenging yet rewarding way to help reduce obesity and related illnesses through weight loss procedures.

Conclusion

Becoming a bariatric surgeon requires commitment – a bachelor’s degree, 4 years of medical school, a 5-year general surgery residency, and a 1-2 year bariatric surgery fellowship. It’s a long road, but helping obese patients through weight loss procedures is rewarding. With obesity rising globally, skilled bariatric surgeons are in demand. If dedicated to fighting obesity with sensitivity and expertise, it’s a fulfilling career. The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery provides guidance on requirements.

Additional Resources

Resource TypeNameDescriptionURL/ISBN
OrganizationAmerican Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS)Offers info on training pathways, fellowships, and morehttps://asmbs.org/resources/training-paths
OrganizationSociety of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES)Bariatric surgery fellowship with training and mentoringhttps://www.sages.org/publications/surgical-fellowships/
Book“The ASMBS Textbook of Bariatric Surgery”Covers clinical and scientific knowledge for bariatric surgery practiceISBN: 978-0985650425
Book“Bariatric Surgery: A Primer for Your Medical Practice”Focuses on primary care for bariatric patientsISBN: 978-0997832944
Online CommunityENGAGE CommunityDiscussion forums on bariatric training, cases, techniques and morehttps://community.sages.org/community/engage
ConferenceObesityWeekOpportunity for bariatric surgery education and networking

FAQs

What is a Bariatric Surgeon?

A bariatric surgeon is a medical doctor who specializes in performing weight loss surgeries. These procedures help patients with obesity lose weight and often involve modifying the gastrointestinal tract to reduce food intake and nutrient absorption.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Bariatric Surgeon?

To become a bariatric surgeon, one must first complete a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a science-related field. Then, a four-year medical degree (MD or DO) is required, followed by a 5-year general surgery residency. Finally, a specialized 1-2 year fellowship in bariatric surgery is necessary.

What Kind of Surgical Procedures Do Bariatric Surgeons Perform?

Bariatric surgeons typically perform surgeries like gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, and gastric banding. These procedures are designed to help reduce the size of the stomach or limit calorie absorption.

Is Board Certification Required for Bariatric Surgeons?

Yes, after completing the necessary education and training, bariatric surgeons should obtain board certification from an appropriate medical board, such as the American Board of Surgery. This certification involves passing a comprehensive exam and demonstrates proficiency in bariatric surgery.

What Skills are Important for a Bariatric Surgeon?

Key skills include technical proficiency in surgical procedures, strong analytical abilities for patient evaluation, excellent communication skills for patient education, and the ability to lead a multi-disciplinary team.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Bariatric Surgeon?

Including undergraduate education, medical school, residency, and fellowship, it typically takes 11-14 years to become a fully trained and certified bariatric surgeon.

What is the Job Outlook for Bariatric Surgeons?

The demand for bariatric surgeons is expected to grow due to the rising rates of obesity and related health conditions. This specialty is seen as a critical area in managing and treating obesity and its complications.

Can Bariatric Surgeons Pursue Subspecialties?

Yes, within the field of bariatric surgery, there are opportunities to focus on specific types of surgeries or research areas, such as minimally invasive techniques or the development of new surgical procedures.