Updated on Dec. 30, 2021 by Riley Nisbet

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.

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.

During the 2021 Match cycle, 612 surgical residency positions were filled. Of these, 269 were filled by IMGs–191 by non-U.S. IMGs and 78 by U.S. IMGs–ranking it as one of the highest matching specialties for IMGs.

For more on 2021 Match data, click here.


Practicing as a Surgeon

Although IMGs match into surgery residencies at a rate of roughly 44%, 75% of general surgeons in the U.S. graduated from U.S. medical schools (as of 2019). This implies IMGs who do their residencies in surgery either go on to specialize or eventually practice in their home countries.

In the U.S., the average salary for a general surgeon has steadily risen to $407,300. Despite being among 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.

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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