Are you cut out to be a trauma surgeon?

June 6, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Working as a trauma doctor can be an exciting career choice, but it is also often very stressful. Before choosing this area of medicine to pursue, consider what is involved, what your personality is suited for and what your goals are.

Trauma doctors evaluate, diagnose, stabilize and manage patients who have experienced some type of physical traumatic injury. For example, traumatic injuries may include victims of car accidents, physical assaults, and falls. Trauma surgeons will treat patients with a large variety of injuries including fractures, cuts, internal injuries, shock, and burns. Although emergency room physicians may also treat patients who have traumatic physical injuries, trauma doctors are usually trauma surgeons who have specialized critical care surgery training.

What does a trauma surgeon do?

The responsibilities of a trauma doctor start as soon as the patient arrives at the hospital emergency room.  Many times, a trauma patient may have multiple injuries. The trauma doctor needs to complete a rapid assessment in order to prioritize the most serious injuries first. The physician will determine what diagnostic tests are needed and what other specialists may need to be involved in evaluating the patient.

If surgery is needed, the trauma surgeon may also perform the surgery. In some cases, another specialist, such as a neurosurgeon, may operate instead of a trauma surgeon. The trauma doctor will also continue to monitor the patient in the intensive care unit and on the hospital floor during the course of their recovery.

Because traumas can happen at all hours, 365 days a year, trauma doctors work around the clock. If you are going into this specialty, you may need to rotate shifts and cover overnight, weekend or holiday shifts.

Early preparation

It takes a lot of time, effort and money to become a trauma doctor. There are several things you can do to get a head start on this career path. For instance, students interested in becoming trauma doctors should gain a strong foundation in math and science in high school. Classes in physics, chemistry and anatomy are needed.

If possible, consider becoming a volunteer for your local ambulance company. The requirements to become a volunteer may vary. Some communities allow volunteers at age 16. In other cases, the minimum age is 18. Ambulance volunteers may be required to become certified in CPR or first aid, or to earn an emergency medical technician certificate.

Working with an ambulance company will provide you with first-hand experience in dealing with patients with traumatic injuries. It will also help you to get a feel for what working in a fast paced environment is like.

Things to consider about becoming a trauma surgeon

Before you commit to a career in trauma surgery, it is essential to consider a few different factors. First, you should consider how much time you are willing to spend in training. Although becoming a doctor is never the fastest career choice, certain specialties require more training than others.  Becoming board certified in trauma surgery is not a quick process. After medical school, a five year surgical residency is required in order to become a board certified surgeon.

But if trauma surgery is your goal, you’re not done with training yet. An additional fellowship in critical care surgery consisting of one to two years, some of which involves trauma related surgery, is required.

Although the work of a trauma doctor can be very interesting and exciting, it is also one of the most stressful medical specialties a person can choose. In many instances, trauma patients are critically ill and in life threating situations. Trauma surgeons need to make quick decisions, many times with incomplete information. Sometimes delaying treatment, even by a few minutes, can be the difference between life and death. That’s a lot of pressure for anyone.

Personality traits needed

There are many different specialties of medicine, and it is important to consider your strengths and weaknesses when evaluating your career choice. In addition to being able to handle pressure, there are other traits that a trauma surgeon should have. 

If you are someone who thrives in a fast paced environment, trauma surgery may be a great fit. Most trauma surgeons work in large teaching hospitals or trauma centers where it is common to have multiple patients arrive consecutively. You will need to work quickly without a lot of downtime.

Trauma doctors also need to be natural leaders. You will be in charge of a team of nurses, respiratory therapists, x-ray technicians and other physicians. As the physician in charge, you will need to lead the team. Leadership involves giving clear directions, delegating when appropriate and keeping the team focused in intense and emotional situations.

Another important trait to have is confidence. Patients’ lives will often depend on the decisions a trauma doctor makes. A good trauma doctor needs to believe in the decisions he or she is making.

It is important to understand having confidence also means knowing when to consult with other specialists and seek help. One essential trait of any doctor, including trauma surgeons, is to know when you need to collaborate with other medical professionals.

As is the case with all medical specialties, a trauma doctor should have compassion and empathy. Being the victim of a car accident, shooting or another type of trauma does not just cause physical injuries. Trauma patients may be afraid, confused and depressed. Depending on the situation, they could also be dealing the loss of others who were involved in the traumatic event. Trauma doctors should be understanding of the emotional aspects of a trauma and refer patients to appropriate services for support.

Although it can involve long hours, intense training and be very stressful, being a trauma surgeon can also be extremely rewarding. Consider, the impact a trauma doctor can have. One minute a patient may be living their normal life and the next minute they are in a trauma room with life threating injuries. A trauma doctor can save someone’s life at that moment. That’s pretty good for a day’s work.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.