Becoming a General Surgeon

What does it take to become a General Surgeon?

A general surgeon is a physician who specializes in evaluating and treating a variety of conditions and diseases that may require surgical treatment.  In addition to caring for patients pre-operatively and performing surgery, general surgeons also monitor patients post-operatively. 


General Surgery is not the easiest or quickest medical specialty.  After earning a four-year undergraduate degree and graduating from medical school, years of training are still ahead for general surgeons.  A minimum of a five-year general surgery residency will need to be completed. The residency must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.  During that time, 850 operative procedures must be performed. 

In addition to be eligible to take the American Board of Surgery certifying exams, a surgery resident must complete a minimum of 40 cases in surgical critical care, 25 teaching assistant cases (performed during 4th and 5th year of training) and perform 200 Major Cases, which must be logged in their Chief year.   

Required Certifications during training

During training, general surgery residents are required to obtain certifications in the Fundamentals of Laparoscopic Surgery (FLS), complete the Fundaments of Endoscopy Curriculum (FSC) over the 5 years of training and become certified in the Fundaments of Endoscopy Surgery (FES), and   have proof of Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) certification. 

During the five-year residency, surgical experience must be gained in areas including the abdomen, endocrine system, vascular surgery and solid organ transplant.  In addition, experience in pediatric surgery, trauma, emergency surgery and critical care surgery must also be gained. 

American Board of Surgery Boards

Residents that meet all the training requirements can apply to take the ABS QE and CE exams to become Board Certified in General Surgery. 


Not everyone is cut out to be a doctor, and not all doctors can be surgeons.  You need to be someone who works well under pressure and can solve problems quickly.  Complications, which can be life threatening can develop during surgery.  Surgeons need to determine the cause and act quickly.

A general surgeon needs to work well as part of a team.  Surgeons do not work alone.  In the operating room, there will be assisting surgeons, nurses and surgical technicians.  Having good communication skills and being able to lead effectively are also required skills for surgeons. 

Surgeons need to have stamina as surgeries can take several hours.  You need to be able to stay focused for hours at a time.  Surgery requires a steady hand, excellent eye-hand coordination and dexterity. 

Although surgeons spend a lot of their working hours in the operating room, they also make rounds in all areas of the hospital and will spend time seeing patients in their office.