How to become Colon and Rectal Surgeon : A Comprehensive Guide

Updated on January 9, 2024


Becoming a colon and rectal surgeon takes many years of education and training. First, you must complete a bachelor’s degree and medical school to obtain your MD. Next, you would apply for a 5-year general surgery residency program to gain broad surgical experience. Afterward, you would need to complete an additional 1-2 years of specialized fellowship training in colon and rectal surgery to
master procedures like colonoscopies, surgery for hemorrhoids, intestinal disorders, and colon and rectal cancers. If you have the dedication and patience, a colon and rectal surgeon career can be very rewarding. This article outlines the step-by-step path to reach this goal.

What is a Colon and Rectal Surgeon?

A colon and rectal surgeon is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the colon, rectum, and anus. These surgeons have completed advanced training in colorectal surgery after finishing medical school and a 5-year general surgery residency program.

Colon and rectal surgeons treat a wide range of conditions, including colon cancer, inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, as well as hemorrhoids and other anorectal conditions. They are trained to treat these disorders medically and surgically.

Colon and rectal surgeons utilize various tests like colonoscopies, endoscopies, and imaging scans to diagnose conditions. Based on the diagnosis, they create customized treatment plans, which may involve medications, surgery, or lifestyle changes. Some common surgeries they perform include colectomies to remove parts of the colon, proctectomy to remove all or part of the rectum, and hemorrhoidectomies to remove hemorrhoids.

In summary, colon and rectal surgeons have advanced expertise in colorectal health issues. Their specialized training equips them to accurately diagnose and provide complete care through medical management, minimally invasive surgery, open surgery, and post-treatment follow-up. Finding an experienced, board-certified colon and rectal surgeon is crucial for optimal treatment and outcomes for any colorectal disorder.

What do Colon and Rectal Surgeons do?

Colon and rectal surgeons are specialists who diagnose and treat various conditions related to the colon, rectum, and anus. Some of the key things colon and rectal surgeons do include:

As you can see, colon and rectal surgeons manage everything from preventative colon cancer screening to treating minor and major conditions affecting the lower digestive system. Their specialized knowledge allows them to accurately diagnose and develop effective treatment plans for patients experiencing discomfort or diseases related to this part of the body.

Educational Requirements for Becoming a Colon and Rectal Surgeon

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to becoming a colon and rectal surgeon is earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited
university. While any major is acceptable, students often choose to major in biology, chemistry, or biochemistry to gain a strong scientific foundation for medical studies. Coursework typically includes classes in biology, anatomy, physics, chemistry, mathematics, and the humanities. Students must also complete prerequisite courses for entry into medical school.

Obtain Admission to Medical School

After earning a bachelor’s degree, prospective colon and rectal surgeons must attend and graduate from medical school. Admissions are very competitive, so students should strive for excellent grades in undergraduate coursework, particularly in the sciences. Applicants must submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, admissions test scores from the MCAT exam, and an application through a centralized application service (AMCAS).

Complete a Residency in General Surgery

After earning their medical degree (MD), prospective colon and rectal surgeons must complete an accredited 5-year residency program in general surgery to become eligible for specialty training. This provides extensive training in the diagnosis and comprehensive management of surgical diseases. Residents progressively take on more responsibility in the operating room and inpatient care.

Pursue an Advanced Fellowship in Colon and Rectal Surgery

Once general surgery residency is successfully completed, surgeons wishing to specialize in colon and rectal surgery must complete an additional 1-2 years of advanced fellowship training in this field. This provides intensive training focused on the surgical and medical management of anorectal conditions, such as hemorrhoids, fissures, abscesses, and cancers, as well as diseases of the small intestine, colon, and rectum.

Become Board Certified

After completing medical training, colon and rectal surgeons must become board certified by the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery (ABCRS). This involves passing a comprehensive written exam to demonstrate knowledge, skills, and expertise in the specialty. Many surgeons also pursue subspecialty certification in related areas like pediatric colorectal surgery or complex general surgical

Maintain Certification and Licensure

Board certification must be renewed every 10 years through an oral exam and assessment of surgical outcomes. Physicians must also maintain an unrestricted medical license in their state, which requires completing continuing education courses annually. These requirements ensure that colon and rectal surgeons remain up-to-date on the latest advances and provide quality, evidence-based patient care.

Postgraduate Training for Colon and Rectal Surgeon

After completing medical school, aspiring colon and rectal surgeons must complete a 5-year general surgery residency program to learn core surgical skills and knowledge. During a general surgery residency, residents get hands-on surgical training in areas like trauma, critical care, oncology, and vascular surgery.

Toward the end of the general surgery residency, future colon and rectal surgeons apply for competitive fellowship programs to specialize further. These colon and rectal surgery fellowships typically last 1-2 years and provide extensive training in diseases and disorders related to the lower digestive tract.

According to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS), colon and rectal surgery fellows gain experience in:

The ASCRS requires colon and rectal surgery fellows to perform at least 100 major colon and rectal cases as the primary surgeon during their specialized training. Programs also provide research and teaching opportunities to prepare graduates for a career as academic surgeons.

After completing a colon and rectal fellowship, surgeons can become board-certified in this specialty by passing the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery exam. Many also pursue further subspecialty training or research opportunities to advance their careers.

Licensure and Certification

Becoming a licensed colon and rectal surgeon requires significant specialized training and certification beyond medical school.

After achieving an MD, prospective surgeons must complete:

Licensure and Certification Requirements

Maintaining certification through periodic renewals and continuing education ensures surgeons are qualified, skilled, and up-to-date. This provides quality assurance for patients seeking highly trained colon and rectal specialists.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Colon and Rectal Surgeon

Becoming a skilled colon and rectal surgeon requires dedication, compassion, and specialized medical training. Excelling in this field demands a specific set of competencies and personal attributes.

Technical Skills

Colon and rectal surgeons must have exceptional surgical skills and extensive knowledge of the digestive system. They need dexterity, precision, spatial perception, and stamina to perform complex operations that can last many hours. Surgeons in this specialty must stay updated on the latest techniques and technologies, such as minimally invasive laparoscopic procedures, to provide optimal outcomes for patients.

Analytical Thinking

These specialists must apply logic and critical thinking to evaluate complex cases and determine the most appropriate interventions. They rely on science and evidence-based medicine to make decisions. Colon and rectal surgeons must possess the intellectual aptitude to synthesize patient information and surgical indications to formulate effective treatment plans.

Communication Skills

Expert communication and interpersonal abilities are fundamental. Colon and rectal surgeons must listen attentively to patients, address their concerns with empathy, educate them on their conditions and treatment options, and explain complicated details in easy-to-understand language. They collaborate with other healthcare professionals and lead operating teams during surgery.

Composure Under Pressure

These surgeons need to stay focused and composed when performing life-saving operations and managing surgical complications. They make high-stakes decisions under pressure and accept responsibility for outcomes. Remaining calm and controlled in stressful situations is imperative.

Passion for Learning

The best colon and rectal surgeons have an innate curiosity and passion for learning. They demonstrate a commitment to regularly reading academic journals, taking continuing medical education courses, and mastering innovative surgical approaches. Lifelong learning enables them to deliver exceptional, evidence-based care.

The most successful specialists have the right blend of cutting-edge technical abilities, rock-solid critical thinking skills, unwavering composure under pressure, and dedication to providing first-rate, compassionate patient care.

Colon and Rectal Surgeon Salary

Colon and rectal surgeons earn a lucrative salary for their specialized work. According to Medscape’s Physician Compensation Report, in 2020 the average salary for colon and rectal surgeons in the United States was $411,000. However, salaries can vary considerably based on factors like years of experience, location, and type of practice.

Typically, the salary of a colon and rectal surgeon progresses as follows:

The most experienced colon and rectal surgeons at the peak of their careers can earn $500,000 a year or more. However, salaries are variable and can fluctuate based on the demand, reimbursement rates, and type of practice they work in. For example, surgeons running their own private practice may earn more than academic faculty surgeons.

Career Opportunities and Advancement

The career opportunities for colon and rectal surgeons are excellent and growing due to an aging population and increased rates of digestive diseases. These specialists are in high demand nationwide.

Job Prospects

Advancement Potential

Board certification by the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery demonstrates exceptional expertise. Many pursue additional fellowship training in areas like IBD, pelvic disorders, motility issues, or cancer.

The career outlook is promising given the supply and demand dynamics. Those completing the long training are rewarded with leadership roles, academic careers, or flexible private practice options.


Pursuing a career as a colon and rectal surgeon requires extensive training but brings opportunities to improve digestive health. The path starts with a bachelor’s degree, four years of medical school, a 5-year general surgery residency, and specialized 1-2 year fellowship. Throughout this intensive journey, prospective surgeons must demonstrate strong academics, top-notch technical skills, compassion, and a tireless work ethic to master complex procedures that significantly impact patients’ quality of life. With dedication and drive, a fulfilling career awaits as an expert caring for those with digestive conditions. See the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons for details.

Additional Resources

Resource Description Website
American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons Provides information about the specialty, residency application process, research, patient care, and development opportunities. ASCRS Website
ASCRS Medical Student Committee Offers mentorship and opportunities for medical students to attend conferences and events related to colon and rectal surgery. Contact ASCRS for details
Residents Committee within the ASCRS Provides similar benefits for residents, including networking and educational opportunities. Contact ASCRS for details
American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery Administers board certification for colon and rectal surgeons. Offers details on eligibility, exams, and maintenance of certification. ABCRS Website
Mentorship and Shadowing Opportunities Reach out to colon and rectal surgeons at your medical school or local hospitals to gain exposure and insights into the specialty. Contact local institutions
Podcasts (e.g., “Behind the Colon”) ASCRS hosts a podcast covering topics related to advancing the field, innovations, patient care, and more. ASCRS Podcast
Publications (e.g., Diseases of the Colon & Rectum) Journals like “Diseases of the Colon & Rectum” share research and clinical information relevant to the specialty. Journal Website


What education is required to become a colon and rectal surgeon?
To become a colon and rectal surgeon, you must complete a bachelor’s degree, attend 4 years of medical school to obtain an MD or DO, complete 5 years of general surgery residency, and then complete an additional 1-2 years of specialized fellowship training in colon and rectal surgery. The full educational path takes approximately 11-12 years after high school.

What is the average salary for a colon and rectal surgeon?
The average annual salary for a colon and rectal surgeon is typically between $300,000 to $500,000, according to salary information reported by various job sites. However, salaries can vary depending on factors like years of experience, location, and type of practice.

How much experience is needed to become a colon and rectal surgeon?
Becoming a fully trained colon and rectal surgeon requires a minimum of 6 years of residency and fellowship training after completing 4 years of medical school. However, most colon and rectal surgeons have 10-15 years of total experience including many years of practice after their training. The extensive training and experience needed to specialize in this field ensures surgeons are highly skilled.

What are the day-to-day job duties of a colon and rectal surgeon?
The typical job duties of a colon and rectal surgeon include examining patients to determine the causes of colon, rectum and anus disorders, performing surgeries like colonoscopies or hemorrhoidectomies, prescribing medication treatments, providing patients with post-operative care instructions, and monitoring patient progress. They may work long hours conducting surgery or seeing patients both in hospitals and in office settings.