Is Being a Surgeon Worth It?

Dayton Uttinger  | 

Even if you know you want to become a doctor, this is only one decision of many to come. You still have to decide which school, where you’d like to practice, and, perhaps most importantly, you’re specialty. Surgery is a popular choice, in part because it is a general category that encompasses several sub specialties, but also because of the perks. No one touches lives quite like a surgeon. However, there are some drawbacks specific to surgery; make sure you know the facts before you commit.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Surgeon?

Becoming a surgeon is one of the longer time investment options in the medical field. While all doctors have to attend medical school for another four years, a surgeon won’t even be halfway done. All doctors have a residency graduating medical school, but their residency will probably take around three years. A surgeon’s residency will take longer.

  • General Surgery- 5 years
  • Neurological Surgery- 6 years
  • Gynecologic Surgery- 7 years
  • Pediatric Surgery- 7 years

Additionally, in the more competitive fields (pediatrics for example), you might have participate in some research or a fellowship in order to be considered for a job. All in all, you’re looking at an additional 9-13 years after undergraduate education before you can become a surgeon.

Keep in mind that those years of residency will be grueling. While it might “only” take half a decade, it will seem longer. You could constantly be on-call, working 80 hours a week with only a few hours of sleep in between shifts. If you want to be a surgeon, you need to always be prepared.

How Much Do Surgeons Make?

Surgeons are compensated for nearly always being on call by their salaries. They are usually among the top earners in the medical field, making an average of $208,000 a year. However, as you can expect, the more specialized your field is, the more you may make:

Pros: Benefits of Being a Surgeon

Being a surgeon is an attractive option for many people, and it’s pretty easy to see why.

Money

Surgeons make substantially more than the average doctor. You will spend more time in school, but you will make a higher salary to compensate.

Meaning

Yes, every doctor has a place in saving or improving lives, but you are on the front lines. You are directly responsible for your patients, and get to take the credit. This can give you a high degree of job satisfaction; you know that you’re making a difference. You can see the evidence of it.

Excitement

You’re definitely more unlikely to be bored than the average doctor. Every operation is a race that has to be executed perfectly. Surgeons are expected to make life or death decisions in seconds. If you thrive under pressure, this might be the job for you.

Cons: Disadvantages of Being a Surgeon

There are some substantial reasons why you might not want to be a surgeon. Make sure you examine both sides of the issue.

Lots and Lots and Lots of School

You might like school (I hope you do, if you’re considering being a doctor), but surgeons really get the short end of the stick here. It’ll be a very long time before you’re able to practice. So not only will you rack up a sizeable debt, but you’ll be unable to start paying for it for longer than other doctors.

Increased Guilt

Although you get to take credit when you save a life, you might also feel responsible if a patient passes. Because you have a greater chance of seeing that moment between life and death than other doctors, these experiences might weight particularly heavy on you.

Stress & Your Social Life

Not only will every operation be stressful, but be consistently on call can force you to miss some important moments in your personal life. The average general surgeon works 50-60 hours a week, not including time that you must be on call. Emergency operations do not wait until the end of your friend’s wedding or your son’s soccer game. This can result in a significant amount of stress.

Being a surgeon is a noble profession with a lot of allure, but it’d be unwise to run into it headfirst. Weigh both the pros and cons, and do your research. You don’t have to decide on a subspecialty right away, but you should know what you’re getting into before you start down that path.


Image Source: https://depositphotos.com/

Dayton is a chronic Wikipedia addict, which is detrimental to her social life but stellar for her writing. She resides in Boise, ID, surrounded by her own frantic outlines, highlighted encyclopedias, and potatoes. The latter was not by choice.

This post was updated March 8, 2018. It was originally published February 24, 2018.