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NOV 20/2014

Beginning your career as a surgeon - a guide

Surgery careers have always stood out as one of the most glamorous and attractive fields of medical employment, with many people seeking to get into this sector in order to experience an exciting and rewarding work environment.

While it is true that surgery can be a varied and fascinating career path, it must be borne in mind that this type of work is also extremely challenging, requiring years of training and education before entering the field.

It is for those with the right skillset and disposition for the work, it is therefore important to ensure you are fully prepared for what to expect before you begin your professional journey.

What will the work entail?
Performing lifesaving operations is the most high-profile part of the surgeon's job, and undoubtedly the aspect that attracts many to the role. This involves working as part of a team including other surgeons, anaesthetists, technicians, nurses and administrators on both elective and emergency procedures.

However, a surgeon's time is not spent exclusively in the operating theatre - the job also involves daily ward rounds to check on the state and progress of patients, liaising with nursing staff and junior doctors, as well as meeting with patients before the operation in outpatient clinics to decide the best course of action, explain the procedures and risks, and carry out the necessary tests, before following up with them after the operation.

What specialisms can I choose from?
Surgeons work in ten main specialties, some of which are divided up again into subcategories. Each involves different types of work and requires specific expertise.

They are:

  • General surgery - a wide ranging and incorporates many different sub-specialties such as breast surgery and gastro-intestinal surgery (on the abdomen).  
  • Cardiothoracic surgery - dealing with adult heart disease and lung problems.
  • Neurosurgery - focuses on the treatment of the brain, spinal cord and central nervous system.  
  • Otorhinolaryngology - treating issues pertaining to the ear, nose and throat, often referred to as ENT. 
  • Paediatric surgery - children's surgery.
  • Plastic surgery - one of the few specialties with no defined region, often dealing with reconstruction to deformed or damaged parts of the body. 
  • Trauma and orthopaedic surgery - focuses on bones, fixing fractures and correcting disease or damage. .
  • Urology - treating conditions in the genitourinary system.
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery - focuses on the face and mouth. The majority of operating time is spent rebuilding the faces and jaws of severely injured patients. It is unique in demanding basic qualifications in both dentistry and medicine.  
  • Vascular surgery - focuses on veins and arteries, common surgical procedures include cartoid endarterectomy, angioplasty and lower limb bypass. 
  • Academic surgery - this involves qualifying and working in a surgical specialty, but also undertaking research and teaching.

The entry requirements
Training to become a surgeon takes a number of years and is extremely competitive, though there are a number of potential pathways. The most common training route is as follows:

  • Medical school - acquiring basic knowledge required for all specialties over five to six years
  • Foundation training - a two-year paid training job in a hospital setting, learning the ropes of the main medical specialties
  • Core surgical training - another two-year paid training job, this time focusing on surgical specialties
  • Specialty training - a further six-year paid training position focused on a single surgical specialty, at the end of which it is possible to apply for a senior appointment

Is surgery right for me?
Surgery can be a difficult and time-consuming career to embark upon; it can also be expensive, although there are numerous sources of support available, including bursaries, loans and grants.

In order to thrive in this sector, applicants need to demonstrate a high level of specialist medical knowledge, good communication skills, a flexible mind, good decision-making skills and an ability to deal with pressure.

For those with the right raw materials to succeed, surgery can be one of the most stimulating and satisfying career options available.

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