As a surgeon you are the leader of healthcare team providing inpatient, outpatient, and emergency services. Temporary and short term assignments are a great way to do extended interviews for a more permanent position or to travel, see the country, expand your “knowledge” of how things are done at different places.
General surgeons are in great need throughout many parts of the United States. With the increasing trend towards specialization and sub-specialization, general surgeons are of great value to the communities they serve. You will have opportunities to treat interesting cases from simple hernia repair to more complex trauma surgery, from benign abdominal pain to rupturing aneurysms, and from simple biopsies to complicated Whipple procedures.
This breadth of experience is valuable both to communities and payors as general surgeons are able to manage multi system disease processes as well as the patients after referral for more advanced medical interventions.
While clinical knowledge, technical competence, and problem solving are considered minimum necessary skills in your profession, they are not the only important skills. Because professional competence is a life long skill, you also need to continually develop your professional competence by self-identifying areas where you need to improve your competence and skills. Developing a learning plan, acquiring new knowledge and skills, applying the medical literature to your practice, and reassessing yourself are life long skills you will need to succeed.
General surgeons also need to be great communicators. The ability to explain complex topics in a simple, but informative way so that patients can be truly informed is essential. You will need to both be able to share in a patient’s joy when telling her a breast lesion is benign, but also console and explain treatment options when it is not. In addition to communicating with your patients, you will need to effectively communicate (both written and verbally) and advocate with peers in other specialties.
General surgeons need to be team players. While you will likely be a leader of the team, every team member is essential for patients to receive the best care. If you do not play well in the sandbox with others your patients will suffer.
General surgeons need to be ethical. You need to put your patient’s best interest first. Finally general surgeons are courageous. It takes a very special person to dive into a difficult case or make on the fly decisions if things do not go as expected. While many other physicians cringe at such responsibility, general surgeons want and seek these sort of situations.
In order to become a general surgeon you must first complete a 4 year medical degree and then apply for a surgical residency. General surgical training is 5 years in length and includes training in endoscopy, surgical intensive care, and emergency care.
Every state in the U.S. requires licensure to practice as a surgeon. In general, you must graduate from an accredited medical school, complete residency training, and pass a general licensing exam that all physicians must pass. Additionally, many hospitals require their medical staff to be board certified in their specialty. This requires you to pass surgery specific written and oral exams.
There is the potential for tremendous growth and opportunities in nearly every part of the United States, especially rural areas. Salaries for general surgeons are high with average U.S. salary for a full time general surgeon being $279,000. Salaries are generally driven by the amount and where you want to live and work. There are different bonuses and incentives that are available as well as the potential for administrative supplements. Opportunities for compensation by the hour are available, but less common in general surgery.
General surgeons definitely work some of the longest hours in medicine. Because emergencies happen at anytime day or night, it is not uncommon to be asked to come to the hospital at irregular times to evaluate a patient. Further, general surgeons also spend many hours in the operating room and then must see patients in the office, emergency department, or in the hospital for a colleague.
General surgeons are in great demand and travel positions will offer you a lot of control in dictating your work environment.
Hospitals can be very political at times. As a traveling surgeon, a hospital has indicated you are in great demand and you will likely be able to practice without all of the administrative angst a regular staff member might have.
Traveling surgeons generally report higher salaries compared to their fulltime, location dependent colleagues.
Finally, travel opens many opportunities to learn. You will get to see how different surgeons preform similar tasks and you will see what it is like to practice in different settings. Such experiences may provide you with the experiences that could lead to administrative and other leadership positions in the future.
By Pat F. Bass III, M.D., M.S., M.P.H.
Pat is a board certified General Internist and Pediatrician He has served as a reviewer for leading national publications including Pediatrics, the Journal of General Internal Medicine and the Annals of Internal Medicine. Pat is also the asthma guide to About.com, a New York Times Company. Learn more about Pat on Google+