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How to become a surgeon in the United States

Updated on April 20, 2011
Practising surgeons
Practising surgeons

A surgeon is a specialized medical doctor who treats disease, injury or deformity by operative or manual methods. Hence, the educational path of a surgeon starts off the same as any other aspiring doctor, but deviates towards surgical training during the residency program.

The article titled “How to become a medical doctor in the United States” will give you insight into the requirements for the first two steps towards becoming a surgeon: the undergraduate degree and the medical degree. This article focuses on the residency program in surgery, and the certification that is required for a surgeon to actively practise in his or her state.

Surgical Residency

During the final year of medical school, students who choose to specialize in surgery, send out applications to suitable surgical residencies. Students are advised to apply to residencies within the state that they wish to practice.

See the Online Guide to Choosing a Surgical Residency

During the first year of residency, the internship year, physicians begin to work full- time at a hospital and get a permanent license to practice. Once the license has been obtained, the resident surgeon will be then be exposed to real surgery under the guidance and supervision of a fully qualified doctor. Surgical residency training can last 2 to 8 years depending upon the area of specialization. Some areas of specialization in surgery include:

  • Cardiac surgery
  • Colon and rectal surgery
  • Dental surgery
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery
  • Transplant surgery
  • Upper gastrointestinal surgery
  • Vascular surgery
  • Maxillofacial surgery
  • Neurological surgery
  • Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Otolaryngology
  • Pediatric surgery
  • Plastic surgery
  • Podiatric surgery
  • Surgical oncology
  • Trauma surgery
  • Thoracic surgery
  • Veterinary surgery

After completion of the residency program, the new surgical graduate needs to obtain a license from the medical board of the state in which he or she will be employed. This needs to be done before active practice of surgery begins. To become eligible for the license, surgeons are required to pass the United States medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

It should be noted that specialized branches of surgery will require additional qualifying criteria set by the respective medical boards. The certification process is governed by member boards of the American Board of Medical Specialists (ABMS) and the American Osteopathic Association (AOA)



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