How to become General Surgeon : A Comprehensive Guide

Updated on January 9, 2024


Becoming a general surgeon takes many years of education and training, but it’s a rewarding career helping people through operations and medical procedures. First, you’ll need to complete a bachelor’s degree, usually in a scientific field such as biology or chemistry. Next, apply to medical school and earn either an M.D. or D.O. degree over four years. After graduating, you’ll enter a five-year general surgery residency program to gain hands-on training under experienced surgeons. The road is long, but if you have the dedication and aptitude, a career as a general surgeon can allow you to save lives and make a real difference.

What is a General Surgeon?

A general surgeon is a physician with additional training to master broad surgical procedures. After 4 years of medical school and obtaining an MD, general surgeons complete the following:

Some pursue 1-2 year fellowships to subspecialize further. However, all share foundational abilities in essential surgery techniques and managing complex medical cases across various care settings.

What do General Surgeons do?

General surgeons are physicians who have completed additional training after medical school to manage a broad spectrum of surgical conditions affecting almost any area of the body. This distinguishes them from surgeons specializing in one specific organ or body part.

Some of the most common procedures performed by general surgeons include:

In addition to surgery, general surgeons are trained to initially diagnose and stabilize patients with traumatic injuries or acute illnesses before treatment or transfer to specialists. They coordinate patient care before and after operations. They are also qualified and licensed to assess medical issues unrelated to surgery that a patient may have.

Educational Requirements for Becoming a General Surgeon

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to becoming a general surgeon is completing a bachelor’s degree at an accredited 4-year university. While any major is acceptable, common ones pursued by pre-med students include biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or health sciences. Ensure to maintain a strong GPA (3.6 or higher is recommended) and take prerequisite courses for medical school like biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics.

Complete Medical School

After earning a bachelor’s degree, the next educational requirement is to complete 4 years of medical school and earn either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. Getting into medical school is highly competitive so having a high GPA, good MCAT score, medical experience, and strong letters of recommendation is important. Learn more about getting into medical school at the Association of American Medical Colleges website.

Finish a Surgery Residency

Once medical school is completed, aspiring surgeons must then complete a 5-year general surgery residency program to obtain hands-on training in the specialty. This includes performing rotations and completing research in general surgery and related specialties like critical care, pediatric surgery, or vascular surgery. Residency programs are also very competitive to match into, with applicants needing strong grades, test scores, and letters of recommendation.

Consider a Fellowship (Optional)

After finishing the 5-year general surgery residency, surgeons can complete an additional 1-2 year fellowship program to focus on a subspecialty like trauma, pediatric surgery, surgical critical care, or transplant surgery. Pursuing a fellowship can provide the surgeon with advanced training in a particular area of interest.

Becoming a fully licensed and board-certified general surgeon involves many years of education and training. But for those willing to commit, it offers an intellectually stimulating career that allows one to really make a difference in people’s lives.

Postgraduate Training for General Surgeons

After medical school, the next steps involve:

Certification Requirements (American Board of Surgery):

The intensive residency period allows future surgeons to hone their skills through immersing experience participating in a high volume of diverse operations.

Licensure and Certification

Skills and Qualities of a Successful General Surgeon

mastery of various skills and qualities. It involves more than a decade of education and training, requiring a long-term commitment.

In summary, the path to becoming a general surgeon is challenging but rewarding, requiring a blend of technical skill, interpersonal ability, decision-making capacity, and stamina. This foundation enables individuals to excel in this critical, life-saving profession.

General Surgeon Salary

Average Salary
0-5 years $200,000-$350,000
5-10 years $300,000-$500,000
10-20 years $350,000-$650,000
20+ years $500,000+

Career Opportunities and Advancement

The field of general surgery offers a variety of career options following the completion of medical school and a 5-year residency program.

Regardless of their chosen path, general surgeons have ongoing opportunities for learning and contributing to medical advancements. They continually update their skills through medical education, ensuring a dynamic and fulfilling career that improves patient care.


The path to becoming a general surgeon is long and demanding but offers immense rewards. This career demands a deep commitment to patient care through surgical interventions.

The journey to becoming a general surgeon is arduous but profoundly rewarding, offering the chance to make a significant difference in patients’ lives.

Additional Resources

Resource Type Description Link
American College of Surgeons Website – Details the path to becoming a surgeon. <br> – Covers education, training, skills, and tips for surgery residents. <br> – Features profiles of practicing surgeons. American College of Surgeons
Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) – Centralized online service for residency applications. <br> – Offers information on the application process and preparation of application materials. ERAS
Volunteer/Internship Opportunities – Opportunities at local hospitals or clinics. <br> – Involvement in programs like the Medical Reserve Corps. <br> – Observing in operating rooms for practical experience. Various local opportunities; check hospital/clinic websites
Books by Experienced Surgeons – Insights into the field of surgery. <br> – Topics include residency interview preparation and career challenges. <br> – Examples: “Complications” by Atul Gawande, “So You Want to be a Surgeon” by Julius Few. Available on book retail sites
Mentorship – Seeking advice from academic advisors or practicing surgeons for personalized guidance. Typically through academic or professional networks


What Educational Path is Required to Become a General Surgeon?

What Kind of Experience is Needed for General Surgery?

What is the Average Salary of a General Surgeon?

What are the Daily Responsibilities of a General Surgeon?