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Surgeons specialise in caring for patients who may need an operation.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £26,350 to £102,500 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: 48 per week

1. Entry requirements

To become a surgeon you'll need to complete:

  • a 5-year degree in medicine, recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC)
  • a 2-year foundation programme of general training
  • 2 years core surgical training in a hospital
  • up to 6 years of speciality training
If you don't have qualifications in science, you may be able to join a 6-year degree course in medicine. This includes a one-year pre-medical or foundation year.

If you already have a degree in a science subject (minimum 2:1) you could take a 4-year graduate entry programme into medicine. 

When you apply for a course in medicine, you may be asked to take the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) or the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT). This is used to check your suitability for a career in medicine by testing your mental abilities and behavioural characteristics, rather than your academic achievements.

You may be able to get NHS funding to pay for your course fees and help with your living expenses.

The Royal College of Surgeons has more information about becoming a surgeon.

2. Skills required

You’ll need:

  • excellent communication skills and the ability to explain choices to patients
  • the ability to work under pressure and make quick, accurate decisions
  • excellent hand-eye co-ordination and practical skills
  • the ability to put people at their ease and inspire trust and confidence
  • leadership and management skills
  • the ability to always work to high professional standards

3. What you'll do

You'll specialise in one of 10 surgical areas, like:

  • ear, nose and throat (ENT)
  • orthopaedic surgery
  • paediatric surgery
  • plastic surgery
  • trauma

You’ll see patients admitted to hospital through the accident and emergency department, or referred by other hospital doctors and GPs.

You’ll spend time:

  • meeting the patient before the operation to decide on the best course of action
  • explaining the procedures and risk
  • taking tests and arrange X-rays
  • carrying out operations with a team of people
  • carrying out ward rounds
  • writing to GPs about your patients’ conditions and treatments
You'll be responsible for training and supervising junior doctors and other healthcare professionals in the hospital. You might also carry out research and write papers for publication.

4. Salary

Starter: £26,350 to £45,750 (doctors in training)

Experienced: £37,500 to £70,000 (specialty doctors)

Highly Experienced: £76,000 to £102,500 (consultants)

Consultants working in the private sector may be paid more.

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

You'll work long hours including nights and weekends. You'll also be part of an out-of-hours rota system.

You'll spend time in a variety of settings such as consulting rooms, wards, operating theatres and special units like accident and emergency.

6. Career path and progression

With experience and entry on the General Medical Council (GMC) Specialist Register, you could apply for senior (or consultant) roles, go on to lead a team, or manage a department. 

You could also progress to teaching and training students, trainee doctors and other healthcare professionals.

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Last updated: 13 September 2018