The Job and What's Involved

Surgeons operate on patients in order to treat injuries, diseases and degenerative conditions.

They talk to patients, take case histories and examine them to diagnose problems. If surgery is necessary they operate on patients and monitor their progress after surgery.

Surgeons work in one of nine surgical specialties:

  • Cardiothoracic (heart and chest) surgery.
  • General surgery.
  • Neurosurgery.
  • Oral and maxillofacial (upper jawbone and face) surgery.
  • Otolaryngology (head, neck and ear, nose and throat surgery).
  • Paediatric surgery.
  • Plastic surgery.
  • Trauma and orthopaedic surgery.
  • Urology.

There are options for further specialisation within these specialties.

As well as performing operations, surgeons also undertake ward rounds, outpatient clinics and emergency duties. They have administrative work - keeping patient records up to date, writing reports and letters and attending meetings. They may also teach.

Surgeons work closely with other health professionals including nurses, therapists, other surgeons, anaesthetists, radiologists, pathologists, GP's and administration staff.

Most surgeons work long hours, which may include nights and weekends. They spend most of their time in hospitals - in consulting rooms, wards and operating theatres. Operating can involve standing and bending, sometimes for long periods of time.

Surgeons in specialty training earn between £28,976 and £45,562 a year. This may be increased by "banding supplements". Salaries for surgical consultants start at £73,403. The most senior consultants can earn over £173,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Most surgeons work in the National Health Service (NHS). Some combine their NHS duties with work in private hospitals.

Education and Training

To become a surgeon, it is first necessary to study for a degree in medicine and qualify as a doctor. Medical degrees normally take five years, although there are some four-year and six-year courses.

All entrants to medical training need to take an undergraduate course leading to a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery, usually referred to as a 'first MB'. The course normally lasts five years. Medical degree courses are offered by a number of medical schools throughout the UK. See the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website for the full list of courses at

Entry is highly competitive. Most candidates have three A levels/five H grades, with high grades, plus supporting GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent. Most university medical schools require A level/H grade chemistry, although some accept chemistry at AS level. Some medical schools also require A level/H grade biology.

For candidates without science A levels/H grades, a number of universities offer 'pre-medical courses' in sciences, lasting 30 weeks.

Most university medical schools also require candidates to take the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). Additional admissions tests may be set by some medical schools.

Some relevant work experience, such as shadowing a hospital doctor or helping in a care home, is also useful and will greatly help university applications.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

When doctors have completed their medical degree they undertake a two-year foundation programme of general training. Towards the end of the foundation programme doctors decide whether to train in surgery or another specialty.

Specialty surgery training takes around six years and leads to entry to the General Medical Council specialist register. Surgeons are then able to apply for a senior post as a consultant.

Surgeons continue learning new skills throughout their career.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A surgeon should:

  • Have excellent manual and technical skills.
  • Be interested in the care and well-being of patients.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be able to make clinical decisions quickly and accurately.
  • Be able to put people at ease and inspire trust and confidence.
  • Have the ability to work well in, and lead, a team.

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Your Long Term Prospects

Surgeons may have to relocate to take up a consultant post.

There are opportunities to work abroad, for example with voluntary organisations in developing countries.

Get Further Information

The Royal College of Surgeons of England,
35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE
Tel: 020 7405 3474

British Medical Association (BMA),
BMA House, Tavistock Square,
London WC1H 9JP
Tel: 020 7387 4499

General Medical Council (GMC), Regent's Place,
350 Euston Road, London NW1 3JN
Tel: 0845 357 3456

UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT)

Working in the NHS:

England: NHS Careers. PO Box 2311,
Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655

Scotland: Careers and Opportunities in the NHS Scotland
Tel: 0845 601 4647

NHS Wales:

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