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Careers in surgery

Careers in surgeryGet the lowdown on the different surgical specialists, what qualifications you need and how long it takes to train.

Surgeons specialise in operating on particular parts of the body or deal with specific injuries, diseases or degenerative conditions. Check out some of the specialist areas.

General surgery

General surgery is currently being divided into the following specialities: vascular (the circulatory system), endocrine (the glands of the body), oncological (cancerous tissue) and gastrointestinal (digestive system).

As the specialisms concentrate on particular areas, the challenge is to perform the repeated tasks to an even higher degree of excellence. Managing patients and post-operative care also provide challenges and their own rewards.


Neurosurgery deals with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases or disorders affecting the brain and skull, spine and nervous system. It includes dealing with patients before, in and after surgery, including rehabilitation.

Ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgery

ENT has more separate surgical procedures than most other surgical disciplines put together and is deals with people of all ages. Common operations are tonsillectomies and tracheotomies (where an airway has to be made to aid breathing).
Essentially, it is the specialty of communication, involving hearing, olfaction, taste, and of course, speech and language. Because of this, ENT surgeons should themselves be good communicators.

Cardiothoracic surgery

Cardiothoracic surgeons deal with the diagnosis and management of surgical conditions of the heart, lungs and oesophagus. As this surgery is very invasive, such as open heart surgery, there is a lot of post operative care in intensive care units.

Oral and maxillofacial surgery

Oral and maxillofacial surgery combines medical, dental and surgical work. This covers the management of problems including cleft lip and palate, facial injury.
There is a strong emphasis on reconstruction and surgery on both hard and soft tissue, which is quite unique to the speciality. Surgeons in this area need to be trained as both dentist and doctor.

Orthopaedic and trauma

Ever wanted to be a brain surgeon? This is now one of the largest surgical specialties. Surgeons assess and treat problems that develop in the bones, joints, and ligaments of the human body or happen through injury. Most orthopaedic practice is carried out in a district general hospital along with a general trauma service.

Paediatric surgery

The surgical care of children often involves many "adult" surgical specialties that don’t need special paediatric training.

However, specialist paediatric surgery includes; neonatal (pre-birth) surgery, major intestinal surgery of infants and children, major trauma surgery, children's cancer surgery and paediatric urology.

Plastic surgery

The specialty of plastic surgery covers a wide field of reconstructive and reparative surgery, both in its own right and with many other surgical and medical sub-specialties. It includes work on injuries, birth defects as well as the more commonly known cosmetic side.

Plastic surgery has been at the forefront in the development of many new techniques and is now at the cutting edge of research in surgery.


This specialty deals with a wide breadth of diseases and disorders of the urinary system, including bladder obstruction and incontinence, kidney stone disease and infection.

How do you become a surgeon?

Check out this article on becoming a doctor for course entry requirements and details of the stages of study.

It is in the final period of speciality training that doctors train in surgery. This will take eight years compared to three as a GP.

Doctors will be expected to keep up with training and research throughout their career to ensure they are sharing information on all new developments.

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