Turn to any medical TV show and you’re likely to see an exciting and glamorous lifestyle of surgeons. One minute they’re handing life and death situations and the next they’re having wacky workplace hijinks. Well, the reality of a surgeon’s life is mixed and there’s more to it than what you see on TV. While it’s true that they do save lives, they also handle difficult realities. Unpredictable days, piles of paperwork, burnouts, and potential harm, are some of the challenges that will make you question if you should commit to becoming a surgeon.
Determining your future occupation is a big decision. It helps to do as much research as possible before making your final decision. One thing is for sure, becoming a qualified surgeon isn’t an easy task. It’s one of the most demanding medical disciplines that require resilience, years of dedication, and personal sacrifice.
Ultimately, it all comes down to having the dedication and passion to stick in the medical field for many years (focusing on sciences), and most importantly, swearing to help the sick to the fullest of your ability. With that being said, here’s a look at the pros and cons of being a surgeon to help you make an informed decision:
10 Pros of Being a Surgeon
1 Excellent pay and benefits
Being a surgeon comes with several advantages with the first one being high pay. Surgeons make a lot more than the average doctor. In fact, they are the second-highest-paid medical professionals after anaesthesiologists. A general surgeon makes an average of $255,110 a year. Higher pay is possible in private hospitals, larger metro areas, and in specialized areas where procedures are riskier. For instance, thoracic surgeons make over $500, 000 annually. Surgeons also enjoy generous benefits packages, including health and disability insurance, as well as paid vacations.
2 Job satisfaction
Apart from the high salaries that provide financial stability, many surgeons are drawn into the profession by the need to help others. A surgeon’s technical know-how and dexterity in the operating room have an immediate visible impact on a patient’s health and even life. For this reason, there’s a great sense of job satisfaction in doing a successful surgery. Having a job that involves saving a life or improving someone’s quality of life can be extremely rewarding.
3 Job growth prospects
People are always going to need medical care; plus, the growing and aging population is bound to drive overall growth in the demand for medical practitioners. The employment of surgeons is projected to increase by 15% by 2026. This is far much faster than the average growth for all occupations. These fast-growing job opportunities mean that surgeons are, and will continue to be in high demand.
This field of medicine is constantly developing new techniques, as well as new surgical and assistive technologies. This requires surgeons to constantly research and read up on current trends and procedures. Also, each surgery brings unique challenges that a surgeon must find a solution to on the spot. It goes without saying that their minds are constantly learning and applying new medical science, which in turn allows for mental and intellectual stimulation.
The medical field is highly respected, which makes becoming a surgeon an even greater accomplishment. This field of medicine is considered more prestigious because it requires many years of serious studies, it’s intellectually stimulating, and earns surgeons a very comfortable living. Most importantly, surgeons hold people’s lives in their hands.
6 Helping others
Surgeons do their best to make surgeries safe and successful. There’s no denying the great impact they make on their patient’s lives by literally saving their lives and getting them back on their feet. Surgeons also help other aspiring clinicians. As medical experts, they get to teach students about medicine. Lastly, they help to dispel common misconceptions held by patients and their families. If you’re someone who enjoys helping others, then this profession is full of opportunities to save lives and provide service to others.
7 Revolutionize patient care
Surgeons work hand in hand with other medical experts, big tech companies, and universities to advance the field of medicine and expand the boundaries of medical care. By writing important academic papers, coming up with new surgical techniques, as well as testing the latest surgical procedures and providing feedback, they are enabling the next generation of surgeons to perform better surgeries with minimal complications and faster recovery time.
8 Various career choices
Those aspiring to join this field of medicine can choose from over a dozen areas to specialize in. This includes general surgery, which involves performing an array of surgeries on the whole body, or more specialized fields like thoracic surgery, plastic surgery, orthopedic surgery, neurological surgery, colon & rectal surgery, and so on. You can also choose to work with kids or focus on the elderly.
9 Many employment opportunities
Depending on their specialty, surgeons can choose to work in one of the many types of employers, including hospitals, professional schools and universities, physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers, and so on. There’s a shortage of surgeons worldwide, especially in developing countries. This means that even expats can easily find work in the countries they live in. Given that human bodies are the same everywhere, surgeons can work anywhere in the world. But being an expat, you’ll need to register with the country’s medical council.
10 An exciting job
Each day of a surgeon’s life is different and it never gets boring. Every surgery is a race that needs to be executed perfectly. You’ll find yourself having to make life or death decisions in seconds. While this can be extremely stressful at times, it’s certainly very thrilling. You’ll also get to tackle fresh health challenges almost daily, as well as different emergencies in the operating room. You also get to interact with a variety of patients and healthcare professionals every day.
10 Cons of Being a Surgeon
1 Lots and lots of education
Hopefully, you really like school because it will be a very long time before you’re able to practice. To become a surgeon, you’ll need 4 years of undergraduate studies, followed by 4 years of medical school, and an internship. After successfully completing medical school, you’ll need at least 5 years of surgical residency. The amount of time spent in residency and internship depends on the area of specialty. That’s over a decade of schooling and training, preparing for your career.
2 Expensive schooling
With so many years of study, it’s only a matter of time before you incur large financial debt investing in your studies. Tuition fees in the medical field cost about $33,000/year in public universities and $52,500/year in private ones. Statistics also show that medical students often graduate with an average debt of $190,000. And, even though a surgeon’s salary starts pretty well, it will take some years to pay off that debt.
3 Long hours and burnout
Surgeons don’t work the typical 9-5 hours. They are usually burdened with work as they perform surgeries, check up on patients, attend meetings, train new doctors, do research, write and publish papers on their research, and still have paperwork to complete. This means waking up early and sleeping late with a very short break (if any) during the day. Long hours of dealing with life and death situations can lead to burnout.
4 Exposure to malpractice suits
Mistakes happen in all professions; unfortunately, the repercussions in this field can be physically damaging or even fatal. That’s why surgeons are the most likely medical professionals to be sued for malpractice. 80% of surgeons have been sued at some point in their careers. Malpractice trials can be time-consuming, lasting 3-5 years. They can also harm a surgeon’s reputation and are very expensive. Although surgeons are required to have malpractice insurance, premiums are still high.
5 Impact on social life
Not only do surgeons work long hours, but they are also required to be on call most of the time. This means being ready to go to work at any time needed. This can often interfere with their personal life as it limits the amount of time a surgeon has to spend with friends and family and even attend social commitments.
6 High-stress levels
Surgeons have the most stressful jobs as people’s lives are literally in their hands. They are always under a lot of pressure to deliver perfect services. A small error can prove fatal, and if that happens, it can take a toll on a surgeon’s emotional well-being. That, coupled with overwhelming responsibilities, long working hours, and difficult procedures, often leads to anxiety or even depression.
7 Risk of injury/infection
Surgeons are at risk of needlestick injuries, as well as cuts from scalpels or other surgical equipment. This, in turn, exposes them to blood-borne diseases, particularly hepatitis and HIV. Everyone involved in the surgery is often exposed to airborne pathogens, especially the surgeon since they work directly over the patient. Surgeons are also at a slight risk of radiation exposure during imaging studies and the anesthetic gases can be risky if accidentally inhaled. The good news is surgeons wear protective gear during a procedure and hospitals often have safety standards in place in case of an accident.
8 Negative environments
Seeing your patients sick and hurting can be hard. This is especially true if they are young or have a terminal illness. It’s human to feel sadness and empathy in these kinds of situations. As much as surgeons try to keep a positive perspective, at times it can be very difficult. This negative energy can end up being transferred to your personal life.
9 Increased guilt
Surgeries are often full of emergencies that require a fast decision. This can be overwhelming as it involves human life. Just as you get to take credit for saving a life, you might feel responsible if you lose a patient. This is because you’re more likely to see that moment between life and death than other medical practitioners. Such bad experiences can weigh heavily on a surgeon.
10 Difficult patients
Not every patient will be easy to work with. You can’t blame them though –being injured or sick isn’t fun. At some point, surgeons have to deal with unruly and cranky patients. Family members may also demand that you care for their loved ones at all times, which is impossible as there are other patients to cater to. This can create some tension, making the time spent with a patient or their loved ones a bit difficult.
About the author: Marta Kovachek is the author of this article. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in Economics. Marta enjoys writing about the current economic situation and loves helping our readers to find their next "destination". From places to live to complex social and economic topics, we always enjoy Marta's work. Please contact us in case of any questions.