How to Become a Surgeon


The path to becoming a surgeon starts well before you operate on your first patient. An aptitude for science and good grades in high school and college are essential if you hope to be accepted to a medical school. Understanding the steps you’ll take to become a surgeon will help ensure you’re prepared to achieve your goal.

Hit the Books

  • The first step to a surgical career is a four-year college degree with coursework in biology, biochemistry, organic and inorganic chemistry, physics, math, humanities and English. Before you can apply to a medical school, you must take the Medical College Admissions Test, a standardized test used to evaluate your familiarity with common scientific ideas and assess your critical thinking and language skills and problem-solving abilities. Medical schools are very selective in accepting applicants. Schools not only review your college transcript and MCAT scores, they also assess your leadership ability and review the volunteer and paid positions you’ve held in the medical field.

Hands-On Experience

  • Your education doesn’t end after four years of medical school. You’ll gain most of your surgical experience during your residency, a specialized training program for medical school graduates that provides hands-on experience in surgery and lasts an average of five years. Acceptance to a residency program can be even more competitive than the medical school acceptance process. The American College of Surgeons notes that some programs require publishing credits, advanced degrees and membership in Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society.

Starting Your Career

  • After you finish your residency, you’ll be ready to hang up a shingle and open your own office or partner with another doctor or medical group. If you plan to specialize even further, you might apply for a fellowship. Fellowships are helpful if you plan to specialize in a particular area of surgery, such as burn surgery, and usually last two years. Acceptance to a fellowship program is even more competitive than acceptance to a residency program. Completion of a fellowship is an impressive addition to your curriculum vitae and can open doors when you search for a job.

Tests, Tests and More Tests

  • Tests will be a part of life from the time you start medical school to the time you finish your residency or fellowship. You’ll need to pass the three-step United States Medical Licensing Examination to be licensed to practice medicine if you earn a medical degree, or M.D. Step one of the test is usually taken at the end of the second year of medical school, step two in the fourth year, and step three during the first or second year of your residency. Doctors who earn a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree, or D.O., must take and pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination, which is also a three-step process. After you complete your residency, you can take a test to become board certified in general surgery or a sub-surgical specialty.

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