Becoming a surgeon is a popular career choice for those who are interested in medicine and surgery. However, many people are often confused about the length of time it takes to become a surgeon and the steps involved in the process.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: It takes a minimum of 13 years to become a surgeon, including 4 years of undergraduate study, 4 years of medical school, and 5 years of residency training.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the steps involved in becoming a surgeon, the education and training requirements, and the skills necessary to succeed in this field.

Undergraduate Education

If you’re considering a career as a surgeon, you’ll need to plan for a long and challenging educational journey. The process of becoming a surgeon can take anywhere from 12 to 15 years or more, depending on the specialty and the individual’s path to licensure. Here’s a breakdown of the undergraduate education requirements for aspiring surgeons:

Choosing a Pre-Med Major

Most aspiring surgeons begin their journey by earning a bachelor’s degree in a pre-med major such as biology, chemistry, or biochemistry. However, some medical schools do not require a specific major and will accept students who have completed the required prerequisite courses. It’s important to note that admission to medical school is highly competitive, and students must maintain a high GPA while completing rigorous coursework in science, math, and humanities.

Completing the MCAT

After completing their undergraduate degree, aspiring surgeons must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a standardized exam that measures their knowledge of biological and physical sciences, critical analysis and reasoning, and writing skills. The MCAT is a crucial part of the medical school application process and can determine whether a student is accepted into a program.

Gaining Clinical Experience

In addition to academic achievement, medical schools look for applicants who have gained clinical experience through internships, research projects, or volunteer work. This experience can help students understand the demands of a medical career and develop the skills and qualities needed to be a successful surgeon, such as communication, teamwork, and empathy.

Medical School

Becoming a surgeon requires a lot of hard work and dedication, and it all starts with choosing the right medical school. When selecting a medical school, it is important to consider factors such as location, curriculum, admission requirements, and faculty. You can start researching medical schools by visiting the Association of American Medical Colleges website (, where you can find a comprehensive list of accredited medical schools in the United States.

Once you have chosen a medical school, you will spend the first two years completing classroom-based coursework that covers topics such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and medical ethics. During this time, you will also have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through clinical rotations in a variety of specialties.

The second two years of medical school focus on clinical training, where you will work directly with patients under the supervision of licensed physicians. During this time, you will rotate through different medical specialties, including surgery, to gain exposure and experience in different areas of medicine.

Residency Training

Once you have completed four years of medical school, you will need to complete a residency program to become a surgeon. Residency training is an intense and challenging period of training that allows doctors to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to practice medicine in their chosen specialty.

Choosing a Specialty

Before applying for residency, it is important to choose a surgical specialty that you are passionate about. Some of the most popular surgical specialties include general surgery, orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, and plastic surgery. Each specialty requires a different set of skills, and it is important to choose one that matches your interests and strengths.

Applying for Residency

Once you have chosen a surgical specialty, you will need to apply for residency. The application process is highly competitive, and it is important to have good grades, strong letters of recommendation, and relevant research experience. The National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) is responsible for matching medical students with residency programs, and it is important to follow their guidelines and deadlines closely.

Completing Residency Training

Residency training typically lasts between five and seven years, depending on the surgical specialty. During this time, residents will work long hours in hospitals and clinics, gaining practical experience in their specialty. They will also attend lectures and conferences, complete research projects, and take exams to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

After completing residency, doctors may choose to pursue further training in the form of a fellowship. Fellowships allow doctors to specialize even further within their chosen surgical specialty and are typically one to two years in length.

Becoming a surgeon requires a significant amount of time, dedication, and hard work. However, for those who are passionate about medicine and surgery, the rewards of this career can be great. If you are considering a career in surgery, it is important to do your research and prepare yourself for the challenging road ahead.

Fellowship Training (optional)

After completing medical school, residency, and becoming a licensed physician, some doctors may choose to pursue additional training in a specialty through a fellowship program. Fellowships are optional, but they can provide physicians with additional skills and knowledge to advance their careers.

Choosing a Fellowship

When considering a fellowship, it’s important to choose one that aligns with your interests and career goals. There are many different types of fellowships available, ranging from general surgery to specialized fields like pediatric surgery or trauma surgery. Researching different programs and talking to current or former fellows can help you determine which fellowship is right for you.

Applying for Fellowship

Similar to residency applications, applying for fellowship programs involves submitting an application through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) and participating in the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP). Applicants may also be required to submit additional materials, such as letters of recommendation or a personal statement.

Completing Fellowship Training

Fellowship programs typically last 1-3 years, depending on the specialty. During this time, fellows work closely with experienced surgeons to gain hands-on experience in their chosen field. They may also participate in research projects or attend conferences to stay up-to-date on the latest advancements in their specialty.

Completing a fellowship program can help physicians stand out in a competitive job market and may lead to opportunities for leadership roles or academic positions. However, it’s important to weigh the costs and benefits of pursuing a fellowship, as it can be a significant time and financial commitment.

Skills Required for Success

In order to become a successful surgeon, there are several important skills that must be developed over time. These include:

  • Manual Dexterity: Surgeons must have excellent hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills to perform delicate procedures.
  • Problem-solving Ability: Surgeons must be able to analyze complex medical problems and develop effective solutions.
  • Communication Skills: Surgeons must be able to communicate effectively with patients, medical staff, and other healthcare professionals.
  • Leadership Skills: Surgeons often lead medical teams and must be able to make crucial decisions under pressure.

Developing these skills takes time and practice. Medical school, residency, and fellowship programs provide opportunities for aspiring surgeons to hone their abilities and gain valuable experience.

In addition to these core skills, successful surgeons must also possess a strong work ethic, attention to detail, and a commitment to lifelong learning. Keeping up with advances in medical technology and techniques is essential for providing the best possible care to patients.

According to a study published in the Journal of Surgical Education, surgical residents who reported higher levels of manual dexterity and problem-solving ability were more likely to be successful in their training and achieve better outcomes during surgery. Therefore, it is crucial for aspiring surgeons to develop these skills early on.

Resources such as the American College of Surgeons and the Association of Women Surgeons provide valuable information and support for those pursuing a career in surgery. By developing the necessary skills and seeking out opportunities for growth and development, aspiring surgeons can achieve success in this challenging and rewarding field.


Becoming a surgeon is a long and challenging process that requires a significant investment of time, money, and effort. However, for those who are passionate about medicine and surgery, the rewards can be well worth the sacrifice.

By following the steps outlined in this article, you can gain the education, training, and skills necessary to succeed in this exciting and rewarding field.

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