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Medical Education
Medical Student Education

Career Information: Surgery

Specialty: Surgery

Completed by: Andre Campbell, MD

Date completed: May 2014

  1. What can students do in the 1st and 2nd years to explore and/or prepare for this career?
    During the first year, students should pay close attention to anatomy. The goal for surgically minded students is to begin to understand the importance of how surgery is based on anatomy. Paying attention and doing an excellent job in basic anatomy introduction is extremely important. In addition, students can enroll in the Surgical Skills elective during the first year, the OR Assist elective. In addition, students can go to the Homeless Clinic to get an idea on how to work with patients. It is also important for the first-year medical students to look for research opportunities that they can do after the first year with faculty who has a common interest. Second-year students can also work towards helping work with the Surgical Interest Group at UCSF. It is a great opportunity to get exposure to work with the Department of Surgery.
  2. What common variations exist in the length/content of residency programs for this career?
    The basic clinical training in General Surgery is five years. For most programs or academically based the length of training is seven years. During those two years, residents typically will do research training in academic programs. Research training can be basic science, clinical research, outcome research, and educational research. Many residents also do international work and get a Degree in Masters in Public Health, Masters in Public Policy, Masters in Education and many other areas. The residents have recently gotten much more flexibility in pursuing their goals.  
  3. What common variations exist in this career after training?
    The field of general surgery is quiet vast. Currently there are approximately thirteen fellowships in general surgery alone. These fellowships are anywhere from one to three years after finishing the formal training in general surgery.

    There are many changes that are taking place in the structure of surgical training. These changes included Cardiothoracic Surgery. There are now programs that take students as interns and train them in cardiac surgery for five years. Plastic Surgery training consists of three years of General Surgery and three years of Plastic Surgery. Students can now match into Vascular Surgery programs. This means that you can finish your training in less time and qualify to practice. These residents will not receive certification in general surgery but they will be certified to practice in their specialty.
  4. What is a typical work day for someone in this field?
    There is no typical work day in the field. It depends on where you practice. If you are in private practice, you spend most of your day working in your office or rounding on patients. You spend a fair amount of time operating. In academic practice, you can divide your time between research, teaching, administrative duties, as well as operating.
  5. What is the culture of this career?
    It is really a fast pace and exciting. It is really amazing to be able to provide surgical care to patients no matter what stage you are on your career.
  6. How compatible is this career with raising a family? How is this different for men and women?
    There isn’t variation in respect to the amount of work hours faculty and attending work. There are some opportunities for part-time practice if you are interested in pursuing that. If you are an academic surgeon, the hours are long but they are really exciting at the practice. It is quite different than in the past where in fact you worked quite a number of hours and not an 80 hour work week and most of the number of hours are reduced that now are worked by practitioners.
  7. What are the most important qualities or character traits for a person in this field?
    Absolute honesty is really essential in terms of great interpersonal skills. A strong knowledge base in anatomy and the ability to think in your feet are essential qualities.
  8. How competitive are the residency programs in this field?
    University-based academic surgical residencies are extremely competitive. Community residency is also competitive. It is important to do really well on your Step I and Step II scores so it is important to focus on doing a great job there.
  9. How competitive is the job market after residency?
    There is a shortage of surgeons projected in the future for many years.
  10. What programs have been popular among UCSF applicants, or how should applicants go about considering programs?
    This is a difficult question; no one program is popular with our students. There are hundreds of programs all around the country.
  11. What resources (e.g., websites, books, professional groups) would you recommend for students interested in learning more about this field?
    Become a medical student member of the American College of Surgeons. There is a program that is dedicated to medical students that is run by the Medical Student Education Committee. You can check out on the website:
  12. How important is each of the following for admission to a competitive program?
      Very Important Somewhat Important Not Important Comments
    volunteer work
    Research/publications x      
    Honors in third year   x   Nice but only 25-30% of students get an honors grade. This number is determined by the Dean’s office.
    AOA   x   Helpful but not essential
    Subinternship x      
    Externship   x