How do Doctors Learn How to Perform Surgery?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: R. Kayne
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2019
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A surgeon is a type of medical doctor who specializes in treating illness and injury through operating on the patient. Surgery can be relatively minor, such as making stitches to bind together a small wound, or extremely major, such as opening a patient to replace an essential organ.

The path doctors take to learn how to perform surgery is not an easy one. It requires many thousands of hours of intense study and practice before being declared ready to perform on a live, human being. The mean time to becoming a surgeon, after completion of a high-school education, is approximately twelve years.

The normal path to becoming a surgeon begins with an undergraduate education focusing on the biological sciences. Undergraduates pursuing medical school take a number of biology and physiology classes, as well as organic chemistry and basic physics. Students who are aware they want to learn how to perform surgery, often take electives focusing in depth on anatomy. Volunteer work is usually undertaken in free time, and internships may be pursued during the summer term. In this way a potential surgeon becomes acquainted with the hospital environment, even before beginning graduate school, ensuring they will have less to adjust to once they begin their studies in earnest.


Graduate schools in medicine are highly competitive in the United States and most European countries, with those who want to learn how to perform surgery being one of the most sought after specialties in this already crowded arena. In the United States medical schools require standardized test scores from the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test).

For the first two years, medical students spend most of their time in classes similar to their undergraduate education, though more challenging. In addition to delving deeper into subjects they have already begun studying, they also begin learning procedural information, such as how to take case histories and make diagnoses. Most schools also offer opportunities for students with a surgical focus to operate on human cadavers in order to gain a better understanding of the surgical process.

The last two years of medical school consist of a method of teaching more like an apprenticeship than a standard classroom environment. Students work with actual patients, while being observed by experienced surgeons, to gain firsthand experience in the field. In addition to their area of focus, medical students are required to rotate through other fields, such as pediatrics, internal medicine, and obstetrics, to gain a more holistic feel for the medical world they will be working within.

After medical school the doctor enters into a residency. During their residency the doctor is paid, and works in an actual hospital, operating on actual patients. They are under the close supervision of directors, who observe their work, and this time is used to further hone the skill sets they have gained during their formal education. Finally, all the hard work spent to learn how to perform surgery pays off.

Residencies can last anywhere from two to six years, and upon completion the surgeon is ready to strike out on their own, either as a full surgeon at the hospital they served their residence in, or in a different practice. For those that desire to become a surgeon, the path is a challenging but rewarding one.


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Post 5

Surgeons and doctors in general are life changers to me, because of the many lives they influence positively with their skill set. Even though they sometimes are not perfect, I am glad there are so many around and I personally and strongly desire to become one of the best, if not the best.

Post 4

I think it's great that doctors have to go through a residency before becoming full-fledged surgeons. I don't think there is any better way to learn something like that than through a hands on process.

At them same time, I think I would be a little nervous to know that a resident was performing surgery on me. I know they have to learn. And, like I said, it's a great way to learn. However, I would rather that a surgeon was not learning on me.

Post 3

I'm surprised that surgery is such a sought after field. I've never had any desire to learn surgery. In fact, I couldn't imagine having to do something like that.

But I guess it's a good thing that there are so many people interested in it. I've never had surgery. But, if I ever do, I'm happy to know that there are so many surgeons out there.

Post 2

It sounds like a long, painstaking process to become a surgeon. Although, I'm extremely glad that's the case. I have to have knee surgery soon, and I feel much better about having it knowing that the person who will be operating on me has gone through such long and extensive training.

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