Gunshot wounds, penetrating trauma from an automobile accident or internal injuries suffered in a fall are the province of a trauma surgeon. These doctors complete extensive training in surgery and are expected to be able to make surgical repairs in almost any area of the human body. It takes more than a decade to become a trauma surgeon, and the job is both challenging and rewarding.
Trauma surgeons, like all surgeons, must thrive on the unpredictable challenges of the operating room. You need a strong sense of responsibility and should be a good team player, as the operating room requires teamwork. Trauma surgeons should be very flexible, have excellent problem-solving skills and possess the ability to think on their feet, as their patients are often critically ill with serious physiologic and psychological problems. You should also have good physical stamina and attention to detail, and must be able to use both hands, according to the American College of Surgeons.
If you’ve already set your sights on a surgical career in high school, early preparation can help you reach your goal. Courses in biology, physics, math, chemistry and English can help prepare you for more advanced education once you reach college and medical school. Computer skills are also important, as many doctors use electronic medical records or other electronic tools. A February 2013 study in the Public Library of Science reports that even playing computer games such as Nintendo can significantly improve eye-hand coordination and laparoscopic surgery skills.
Lay the Groundwork
Although a bachelor’s degree is required for entrance to medical school, you can choose a major in any field. Many aspiring surgeons major in a science, but as long as you complete undergraduate work in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and English, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes, other majors are acceptable. Increase your chances of getting into medical school by participating in other activities during your college years. Volunteer or work in a healthcare organization, for example, to gain experience. Or shadow a trauma surgeon to learn more about the field.
Your Surgical Residency
Medical school is the same for all aspiring doctors. You spend the first two years in labs and classrooms, learning the basics of anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, medical law and ethics. In the second two years, you begin to see patients under the supervision of a more experienced physician. When you graduate from medical school, you are eligible to apply for a license as a medical doctor or doctor of osteopathy. Your surgical training actually begins in a post-graduate residency. Surgical residencies typically last five years and cover the diagnosis, pre-operative, intra-operative and post-operative management of patients with surgical conditions anywhere in the human body. This is when you will also begin to learn how to manage and perform surgery on trauma patients.
From residency, you'll go on to a surgical fellowship. A surgical critical care fellowship provides extensive training in trauma and surgical critical care, both in the operating room and in the post-operative management of the patient. You may spend a minimum of one year in a fellowship, although a two-year fellowship provides as much as 14 months of trauma experience. You must also pass two exams to become board-certified in specialty -- which most employers require -- and must have a license to practice in all states. Trauma surgeons might be board-certified in general surgery, pediatric surgery or surgical critical care, for example.
- American College of Surgeons: Section I: Surgical Traits
- Conemaugh Health system: What is a Board Certified Trauma Surgeon?
- American College of Surgeons: General Surgery
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- Public Library of Science: Play to Become a Surgeon: Impact of Nintendo WII Training on Laparoscopic Skills
- Photo Credit Chagin/iStock/Getty Images
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