If you are wondering how to become a surgeon, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers within the medical profession, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Surgeons specialise in caring for patients who may need an operation, for example, when the patient has sustained an injury, developed a disease or degenerative condition.

    As a surgeon you would use your in-depth knowledge of physiology, biochemistry, pathology and anatomy to work in one of nine surgical specialities. You could work in cardiothoracic surgery, general surgery, plastic surgery, ENT, paediatric, trauma and orthopaedic, urology, neurosurgery, oral and maxillofacial surgery.

    Your key duties would involve:

    making a diagnosis
    deciding on the most appropriate course of action
    operating on patients
    monitoring patients after an operation.
    Patients would be referred to you by other hospital doctors, general practitioners, and through admission to accident and emergency.

    You would be responsible for training and supervising junior doctors and other healthcare professionals in the hospital. You may also carry out research and write papers for publication.

    As a senior or consultant surgeon, you would see patients in outpatient clinics, lead a team during surgery and make ward rounds to see patients before and after an operation. You would make notes for patient records and write letters to general practitioners, advising them of their patients’ condition and treatment.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good surgeons include:

    a genuine desire to help people
    excellent communication skills
    the ability to put people at their ease and inspire their trust and confidence
    the ability to lead a team
    the ability to work under pressure and make quick accurate decisions
    the ability to work consistently to high professional standards
    a keen interest in your field and the ability to keep your skills up to date
    excellent hand-eye co-ordination and practical skills
    the ability train, teach and supervise staff
    an interest and ability in science, medicine, anatomy and physiology.

    How to become a surgeon
    To become a surgeon, you need to complete:

    a degree in medicine, recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC)
    a two-year foundation programme of general training (see Training section for details)
    general and higher surgical training (see Training).
    Each medical school has an individual approach and some degree courses will offer more opportunities for dissection work. It is important you research each school and choose a course that will prepare you best for a career in surgery. You can contact the Royal College of Surgeons of England for more advice, and the GMC has a general list of recognised degree courses.

    To get onto a five-year degree in medicine you will usually need at least five GCSEs (A-C) including English, maths and science, plus three A levels at grades AAB in subjects such as chemistry, biology and either physics or maths.

    If you do not have qualifications in science, you may be able to do a six-year degree course in medicine that includes a one-year pre-medical or foundation course (check with universities for details).

    If you already have an honours degree in a science subject (minimum 2:1) you may be able to get onto a four-year graduate entry programme to medicine. Some universities will accept non-science graduates. The British Medical Association (BMA) website has details of course providers.

    When you apply for a degree in medicine, you may be asked to take the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). Universities use this test to help them select students with the personal qualities and mental abilities needed for a career in medicine. Your university will tell you if you need to take the test.

    You can find out more about working as a health professional by gaining some experience (paid or voluntary), for example as a healthcare assistant in a hospital, or care assistant in a residential or nursing home. You could also contact your local hospital about the possibility of observing a qualified doctor at work.

    Training and Development
    As a medical student you will experience many of the specialties within medicine. You will learn basic medical science, communication skills and practical clinical techniques. You will work under supervision in a range of areas such as general practice, accident and emergency, and outpatient clinics.

    When you have achieved your degree in medicine, you need to complete three further stages of training to become a senior (or consultant) surgeon:

    a two-year foundation programme – during this stage you will be known as a Foundation House Officer. You will have the chance to experience a variety of settings, from acute care to general practice. At the end of year one (known as F1) you can achieve full registration with the GMC. By the end of year two (F2) you will make your career choice, for example to train as a surgeon. You apply for this programme through The Foundation Programme website.

    general surgical training programme – this stage can also take around two years to complete and includes sitting the Intercollegiate Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons general surgical exams (MRCS). When you have reached the required standard, you will be awarded the Certificate of Completion of Basic Surgical Training (CCBST). Applications for this stage will be arranged locally by postgraduate deaneries, for details check the Postgraduate Medical Education Board website.

    higher surgical training – this stage can take between five and six years, depending on your surgical specialism. You will work as a Specialist Registrar and sit speciality surgical exams leading to Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS). When you successfully complete this stage, you will be awarded the Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT). This means you will be eligible to join the GMC Specialist Register and practise independently as a surgeon.
    This new way of training is part of the NHS Modernising Medical Careers review.

    As a consultant you are expected to continue learning throughout your career.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Foundation house officers can earn between £21,000 and £26,000 a year.
    Doctors in specialist training can earn up to £44,000.
    Consultants can earn between £70,000 and £94,000 a year.
    Doctors in training will receive extra payments depending on the hours worked, workload, and the amount of time spent working unsocial hours. Surgeons working in private sector hospitals may negotiate higher fees.

    Job Prospects
    Competition for promotion through the various training grades can be strong as places on specialist and higher specialist training programmes are limited in number. When you qualify you may need to relocate in order to take up more senior positions.

    As a surgeon you will find opportunities to work in both the NHS and the private sector. With experience, you may go onto lead a team or manage a department.

    Useful medicine and nursing resources:
    General Medical Council (GMC)
    Regent’s Place
    350 Euston Road
    NW1 3JN
    Tel: 0845 357 3456

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