General surgery verses specializing

December 5, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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In the middle of complex surgery! Medical students who are interested in becoming surgeons may be deciding between general surgery or specializing in a certain type of surgery. Before you make your decision, you may want to consider how much time you are willing to spend in residency, where you want to work and what interests you the most.


General surgery  

General surgeons are trained to treat a wide variety of conditions, which may require surgical interventions. In many cases, surgeons perform routine types of procedures, such as removal of the gallbladder and appendectomies. But there are other instances, where general surgeons perform more complex surgeries involving the endocrine, digestive and vascular systems. 

After graduating from medical school, doctors interested in becoming a general surgeon need to complete a five-year general surgery residency. During their residency, doctors must complete a minimum of 750 operative procedures. An additional 25 surgical procedures in critical care surgery must also be completed. During training, general surgeons will perform surgery in areas such as emergency surgery, pediatrics and trauma surgery. After meeting all requirements, doctors are eligible to take the exam to become board certified in general surgery. 



There are many different types of surgical specialties for doctors who are interested in narrowing their focus. For example, cardiovascular surgeons operate on the heart and blood vessels of the cardiac system. Pediatric surgeons are trained to perform surgery on children.

Some additional types of surgical specialties include trauma, which involves performing surgery on patients who have acute injuries as the result of traumas, such as a car accident or gunshot. Surgical specialties also exist in areas including reconstructive surgery, neurosurgery, transplants and orthopedics.

Surgeons who wish to specialize may take different routes. One option is to complete a general surgery residency followed by a fellowship in a specific type of surgery. Another option is to obtain a residency in the particular specialty of interest, which will include a year or more of general surgery in addition to the specialty. The length of a residency or fellowship for surgical specialties varies depending on the area of focus.     


Similarities and differences between becoming a general surgeon and a specialist

There are several similarities between becoming a general surgeon and a specialist. For instance, both types of surgeons are trained to diagnose and treat conditions that require surgery. Whether you work as a general surgeon or specialize, you most likely will be working long hours. All types of surgical residencies can be demanding and require residents to complete a certain number of procedures. Salaries for both general surgeons and specialists vary based on the number of surgeries performed and geographic locations.  

Just as there are some similarities between general surgeons and specialists, there are also some important differences. Surgeons who decide to specialize will usually be required to complete longer training than general surgeons.

In addition, one main difference is that general surgeons usually perform a wider variety of surgeries, which some doctors may enjoy. On the flip side, specialists have a narrower focus, but can become experts in a particular type of surgery.