The medical specialty of general surgery deals with diagnosing and treating health issues through surgery. This requires those practicing to provide pre-operative, operative, and postoperative care to patients to ensure minimal complications along the way. Those with degrees in general surgery are called general surgeons.

General surgeons are required to have extensive medical knowledge as they must carry out surgical procedures impacting various parts of the body, including, but not limited to, the abdomen, skin, head, neck, limbs, and some organs. This medical specialty requires excellent motor skills, adaptability, and teamwork.

Do the requirements listed above come naturally to you? Perhaps you should consider specializing in general surgery or one of its many subspecialties! For information on postgraduate education in this specialty and what to expect should you become a general surgeon, continue reading below.



To become a general surgeon in the U.S. medical trainees must attend and graduate from medical school. With a medical degree in hand, the next step is residency. While some medical residencies last just three years, a preliminary surgical residency lasts five years, with the early years covering a generalized curriculum and the last two touching on surgical subspecialties.

During the 2020 Match cycle, 583 surgical residency seats were filled. International medical graduates from both the U.S. and abroad secured 242—or about 41.5%—of these seats, making general surgery one of the highest matching specialties for IMGs.

For individuals interested in earning a subspecialization certification, additional training—in the form of a fellowship—is required. Subspecialties of general surgery include complex general surgical oncology, hand surgery, pediatric surgery, surgical critical care, and vascular surgery.


Practicing as a Surgeon

American Association of Medical Colleges, in 2017, roughly 25,000 general surgery specialists were practicing in the U.S. The average annual salary for this population is $364,000, a number that continues to steadily rise year after year. Despite being in the 40th percentile of highest-paid physicians, 67% of general surgeons feel they should be paid more. Long hours and may be to blame for these feelings with 25% percent of specialists in this area of medicine reporting burnout.

Although studies indicate that 81% of general surgeons would choose the same specialization if they had the opportunity to begin their careers again, individuals looking to have success in the field must be detail-oriented and willing to give their time to the practice. General surgeons can expect to work between 50 and 60 hours weekly—this does not include hours for which they are on call.

Currently, there are less than 18,000 general surgeons practicing in the U.S. The annual number of general surgeons who retire each year is greater than those obtaining certifications, meaning there is a general surgeon deficit within the U.S.

For even more information on general surgery, visit The American Board of Surgery’s website.


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