Four Surgical Specialties You May Not Have Considered

December 19, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Surgery is one of the most demanding and interesting medical specialties. Although it can be a challenge, many physicians enjoy the excitement of doing surgery.

When you think about becoming a surgeon, you may consider going into general surgery. Other common surgery options include cardiac and orthopedic surgery. But there are also several other subspecialties in surgery, which you may not be familiar with. Consider some of the surgical specialties listed below.

A surgeon preparing surgical instruments in the operating room prior to surgery. Hand Surgery

You may not give much thought to the function of your hand, but it is a pretty complex body part. The hand is so complex that surgeons can specialize in operating on it.  

Hand surgeons perform surgery on the wrist, forearm and hand. They may treat patients who have genetic malformations of the hand. They also care for patients who have sustained traumatic injuries to the hand. For example, if a patient was involved in an accident that caused a crushing injury to the hand they may require surgery.

Surgeons examine patients and review x-rays and other diagnostic tests to determine the best surgical approach to treating the patient’s condition. They perform the operation and are also involved in postoperative care and instructions.

If you are interested in becoming a hand surgeon, you need to complete a residency in either orthopedic, plastic or general surgery after med school.  Both orthopedic and general surgery residence are five years long. A plastic surgery residency is between five and seven years.

After completing a residency, a hand surgery fellowship is also required. Fellowships in hand surgery are usually one year long. Doctors train in areas, such as microvascular surgery, trauma surgery of the hand and arthritis surgery. Hand surgeons may be employed by trauma centers, orthopedic clinics or in private practice.

Transplant Surgery

Organ transplantation can be a lifesaving surgery for some patients. As medicine and technology evolve, transplant surgery continues to grow. Organs, including the heart, liver and kidneys are now routinely transplanted to treat various conditions.  

Although organ transplants are frequently done, the surgery is still complex and requires specialized skill and training. Transplant surgeons consult with other specialists, exam patients and run tests prior to performing surgery. Surgeons may be involved in removal of an organ or transplanting the organ into the recipient. Many transplant surgeons choose to specialize and focus on one type of organ transplantation.   

Transplants surgeons’ follow-up with patients after surgery to make sure they are healing well and not developing any complications. They also prescribe medication, so the patient’s body does not reject the organ. 

The road to becoming a transplant surgeon starts similarly to other types of surgeons. Following medical school, a general surgery residency, which takes five years, needs to be completed. The next step is a fellowship in transplant surgery. Although it can vary, most transplant fellowships are about two years long. During a fellowship, doctors will concentrate on donor heath, post-operative care of the recipient and specific surgical techniques. Most transplant surgeons work for large medical centers.

Bariatric Surgery

Unfortunately, obesity has grown in the United States in the last few decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that about one-third of all adults over the age of 18 are obese. The increase in obesity has led to a relatively new surgical sub-specialty.   

Bariatric surgery involves different procedures, which are performed to promote weight loss. Bariatric surgeons perform physical exams and review the patient’s past medical history to determine if the patient is an appropriate candidate for weight loss surgery. 

Surgeons also discuss options with their patients and decide which procedure would be most effective. They may perform procedures, such as lap band surgery and gastric bypass. After surgery, physicians are involved in caring for and monitoring patients to spot complications.

Bariatric surgeons work closely with nutritionists to develop healthy eating plans for their patients. They also educate patients on ways to cope with the psychological aspects of obesity, which may be present, such as food addiction.

After graduating from medical school, a five-year surgical residency needs to be completed. After learning how to perform general surgery procedures, additional training is needed. Physicians interested in doing weight loss surgery should complete a bariatric surgery fellowship. Fellowships are between one and two years long. Training includes the surgical management of obesity including performing laparoscopic procedures. Fellows are also involved in clinical research on obesity and surgery. Bariatric surgeons work for hospitals, weight loss centers and in private practice.     

Surgical Oncology

When you think of cancer treatment, you may think of chemotherapy and radiation. In many cases, both are prescribed to treat cancer. But in some instances, surgery is also needed either instead of or in addition to another treatment.

Depending on the type of cancer being treated, surgery may be recommended either before chemotherapy or after. Oncologists generally are involved in the medical management of cancer patients. When surgery is recommended, surgical oncologists are needed.

Surgical oncologists are doctors who specialize in surgery related to cancer treatment. They work closely with medical oncologists to determine what treatment will be most effective. Surgical oncologists review patient’s diagnostic tests, such as CT scans and MRI reports, to get an idea of the extent of the cancer.

Surgeons remove tumors and surrounding tissue during procedures. They may also perform biopsies to check for the presence of cancer cells. After the surgery, doctors will provide care to check for bleeding or signs of infection. They also provide post-operative instructions for patients when they are discharged from the hospital.

In addition to a five-year general surgery residency, doctors interested in this subspecialty are required to complete a surgical oncology fellowship. Two and three-year fellowship options are available.  During training, surgeons will have the opportunity to perform surgical procedures related to different types of cancer, such as skin, thoracic and breast. Surgical oncologists work for medical centers and may also be in a solo or group practice. Some surgical oncologists are also involved in research.