So you want to become a surgeon but don’t know what to specialize in? There are so many different types of surgeons out there, so it’s not an easy decision to make. After qualifying as a doctor, you will need to study for a few more years to become certified as a surgeon. Whether you like complex operating procedures, are interested in learning everything there is about a particular organ, or want to pursue a challenging and growing career path — the life of a surgeon could be perfect for you.
This guide will take you through some of the most popular surgery disciplines to help in your decision-making process. Let’s get started.
As the name depicts, a general surgeon does not specialize in any one organ or part of the body but has the ability and knowledge to work on a broad spectrum of surgical conditions. A general surgeon is usually in charge of the operating room, and they supervise other medical professionals and a team to ensure that all procedures are carried out smoothly. General surgeons often spend their time inside an operating theatre, but they also examine patients, diagnose conditions and provide guidance for pre and post-operative care.
Other responsibilities of a general surgeon include:
- Reviewing a patient’s medical history to plan necessary procedures and treatments
- Evaluating, advising, and researching any surgery-related risks for the patient
- Performing standard surgeries and procedures like appendix removal, colonoscopies, hernia repairs, or varicose vein removals
- Ensuring sterility in the operating room and other areas of the facility
- Researching to develop, improve, and test surgical techniques while staying up-to-date on new surgical developments
A pediatric surgeon treats children right from their newborn stage to their teenage years. Children’s bodies need special attention, and many develop conditions that are not common in adults. This is why pediatric surgeons are essential, as they must train in a very specialized way. If you are good with children, can keep calm during a crisis, and have exceptional communication skills, this might be the path of surgery for you.
Pediatric surgeons may take care of:
- Repairing of congenital disabilities, abnormal growths, and injuries
- Special prenatal and neonatal surgeries that require surgery on a fetus or newborn
- Trauma surgery and pediatric oncology procedures
- Liaising with the child’s parents, family doctor, and other specialists to come up with the best solutions in healthcare and surgery
Cardiothoracic surgeons specialize in surgical procedures of the lungs, the heart, esophagus, diaphragm, and any organ that is located in the thorax (the chest). A cardiologist will decide if a patient requires surgery of the heart and will then refer them to a cardiothoracic surgeon.
Common ailments a cardiothoracic surgeon may treat include:
- Leaks and blockages in the heart valves
- Atrial fibrillation
- Abnormal enlargement or aneurysms of arteries in the chest
- Coronary artery disease
- Myocardial infarction
- Congenital anomalies
- Diseases of the diaphragm
Orthopedic hand surgeon
Some surgeons specialize in extremely intricate systems like the hand, and this includes everything from the patient’s fingers up to their forearms. Orthopedic hand surgeons look at patients who suffer from injuries on their hands, wrists, and arms, as well as those who have genetic or congenital conditions in those areas. Hand surgeons will look closely at a patient’s nerves, bones, and joints, along with inspecting their fingernails, skin, and muscles.
Patients will seek out an orthopedic hand surgeon for:
- Pain that is not subsiding in their hand, wrist, fingers, or arm
- Joint deformities
- Swelling, sprains, or bruising
- Sports injuries
- Broken bones
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Arthritis or locked fingers
The plastic surgery field has long been misunderstood as only for cosmetic purposes. A lot more goes into being a successful and necessary plastic surgeon and they are an integral part of the healthcare system. As a plastic surgeon, you will work on the repair, replacement, and reconstruction of defects of the body and the underlying musculoskeletal system. Plastic surgeons possess a distinct knowledge of the design and transfer of skin flaps and perform both medically significant and cosmetic procedures.
As a plastic surgeon, you can expect to:
- Perform surgical treatments for augmentation or beautification purposes such as breast reductions, liposuction, Botox, or facelifts
- Know how to use and perform many different surgical techniques like prosthetics, implant devices, skin grafting, tissue expansion, flap surgery, and treatment of complex wounds
- Carry out plastic surgery on children to treat congenital disabilities such as cleft palate and polydactyly
- Assess the patient’s psychological health and advise on the risks of surgical procedures
Plastic surgeons require exceptional bedside manners as it is known to be a service-oriented and people-pleasing field. Outward appearances mean a lot to people, so having compassion and unbiased opinions are key.
More commonly known as a brain surgeon, neurological surgery encompasses the diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of disorders of the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous systems. Essentially, the human brain — the extracranial carotid and vertebral arteries, the meninges, and the skull, as well as disorders of the spine.
Neurosurgeons treat conditions such as:
- Tumors in the brain, spinal cord, nerves, skull, and spine
- Epilepsy, aneurysms, Tourette syndrome, seizures, myoclonus, hemorrhages, strokes, and spasms
- Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, moyamoya disease, or cluster headaches
- Craniosynostosis, brain metastases, and trigeminal neuralgia
- Spinal osteoarthritis, herniated discs, sciatica, and spinal deformities
Obstetric and gynecological surgeon
Surgeons in obstetrics/gynecology—OB/GYN—provide care for pregnant women and manage the delivery of babies. They also look after conditions and procedures that affect the female reproductive system. OB/GYN surgeons work closely with gynecologists and family physicians to care for women before, during, and after their pregnancies and may perform procedures such as hysterectomy, biopsy, myomectomy, urogynecological surgeries, in vitro fertilization, and reconstructive treatments.
Patients will visit an obstetric and gynecological surgeon for:
- Fibroids, tumors, cysts, and growths
- Menopause, infertility, or high-risk childbirths
- Family planning, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and infections
- Cervical cancer, endometriosis, or congenital abnormalities
Colon and rectal surgeon
Ailments and conditions of the colon, rectum, anal canal, and perianal area are often handled by a specialist colon and rectal surgeon. They also treat organs and tissues such as the liver, urinary and female reproductive systems, and other areas involved with primary intestinal disease. If you would like to specialize as a colon and rectal surgeon you will require thorough proficiency in intestinal and anorectal physiology, to evaluate and treat problems such as constipation and incontinence (loss of bowel control).
Colon and rectal surgeons are committed to the highest standards of care for patients with diseases that affect the lower gastrointestinal tract and are widely respected and essential all over the world. They treat hundreds of gastrointestinal conditions including:
- Hemorrhoids, fistula, abscesses, and fissures of the anal area
- Crohn's disease, diverticulitis, and ulcerative colitis
- Colon and rectal cancer and colon polyps
Colon and rectal surgeons will also perform procedures such as transanal endoscopic microsurgery, colonoscopy, colostomy, and sigmoidoscopy.
Start your career as a surgeon
Surgery is a very demanding yet rewarding healthcare career choice. The types of surgeons we’ve listed here are only some from a wide variety of disciplines you can choose from.
If you have a passion for performing life-altering procedures and saving your patients’ lives, you will need to first complete an MD program. The more you learn in medical school, the more quickly you’ll be able to narrow down your interests in surgery.