How many years does it take to become a surgeon?

Updated November 21, 2016

In the United States alone, approximately 20 million people undergo surgery every year. These surgeries are handled by well-trained physicians known as surgeons. While becoming any type of doctor requires many years of training, surgeons must complete one of the longest training regimens in the medical field.


The term "surgeon" is a description of someone who uses invasive methods to treat patients' illnesses or injuries. However, the majority of surgeons specialise in certain parts of the body. For example, there are cardiac surgeons, colorectal surgeons, and brain surgeons, just to name a few. Because these parts of the body are so complex, a surgeon must have vast knowledge. General surgeons tend to perform more routine surgeries, such as hernia operations. Other surgeons are trained to handle trauma or ER operations.

Time Frame

To become a surgeon, a student must distinguish herself academically as an undergraduate so she can earn a coveted spot in medical school. Although it's not necessary to major in pre-med, a strong background in science offers advantages for medical school. Four years of college are followed by four years of medical school (two years in classrooms and two years in medical rotations gaining hands-on experience). The next step is one-year internship followed by up to eight more years as a resident. Overall, the process will take from 11 to 17 years, depending on the surgical speciality.


If you are interested in becoming a surgeon, you face some obstacles. The American College of Surgeons points out that not all medical students are capable of specialising in surgery. You must have excellent dexterity in both hands, for one. Additionally, you need to be in good physical health. Because some surgeries require hours of standing and leaning over the operating table, you must be able to physically handle those conditions. The ACS also explains that many people who plan to specialise in surgery change their minds after a short time.


Surgery is one of the oldest forms of medical practice. As early as 6500BC, evidence shows early humans were using trepanation. This is a surgical method in which a hole is cut into the skull to release pressure on the brain. The Aztecs knew how to set broken bones for healing, and much of Western civilisation once practised a primitive form of surgery known as bloodletting using leeches. Surgery was far different from modern methods even in the 13th century when most surgeons for the military had civilian jobs as barbers. Keep in mind most of these early surgeries did not have the benefit of anaesthesia, which did not become commonly used until the mid-19th century.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, growth in all surgical fields is expected to increase at a higher rate than other professions in the United States by 2016. The reasons are similar for most medical professions: an ageing population requires more surgical procedures and leads to more retiring surgeons whose spots need to be filled. The BLS also reports the average salary for a surgeon in 2006 was around £162,500. Some surgical specialities earn higher salaries, however.

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Amy Jorgensen has ghostwritten more than 100 articles and books on raising and training animals. She is also an amateur dog trainer. She has also written more than 200 blog posts, articles, and ebooks on wedding and party planning on behalf of professionals in the field.