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Surgeon Degree Programs – Information and Resources

Overview of Surgeon Degree Programs

Surgery is an important field of healthcare that involves the use of manual techniques to diagnose and/or repair medical problems within the body. If you are interested in a career in surgery, you will have several roles to choose from, including surgical technologist, surgical nurse and surgeon. Surgeons can also specialize in a number of fields, from heart surgery to orthopaedics. All of these careers vary according to their salary, working environment, required education and other characteristics.

Salary Information for Surgeons

Professionals working in the field of surgery earn salaries based on their position, level of education, years of experience and location. On average, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that annual earnings for various surgical positions are as follows:

Surgical Technologist – $41,790
Surgical Nurse – $65,470
Surgeon – $187,200

Work Environment for Surgeons

Whether you decide to become a surgical technologist, a surgical nurse or a surgeon, you can expect to spend a significant amount of time in the operating room. Most professionals in the field of surgery work in hospitals and spend most of the day on their feet. Because surgeries can occur at any time of the day or night, professionals in the field of surgery can expect to work nights, weekends and holidays when necessary. Professionals in this field may also work long shifts and be on call some of the time.

Job Outlook for Surgeons

The demand for professionals in the field of surgery is increasing faster than the average rate of growth for most other professions in the United States. According to the BLS, the average rate of growth expected for all professions in the U.S. from 2012 to 2022 is approximately 11 percent. The predicted rate of growth for job openings in the field surgery is as follows:

Surgeons – 18 percent
Surgical Nurses – 19 percent
Surgical Technologists – 30 percent

Surgical Degrees by Level

Certificate of Surgical Technology or Associate of Surgical Technology

A surgical technologist is a professional who assists surgeons, nurses and other healthcare providers before, during and after surgical procedures. They may prepare the operating room, help the surgeon with the scrub process, keep the operating room stocked during surgery, maintain the sterility of the surgical environment and perform other supporting tasks.

To become a surgical technologist, you must obtain either a certificate or associate’s degree in surgical technology. Certificate programs are typically one year in length, while an associate’s degree may require as much as two years of full-time study. These programs can usually be found at technical or vocational schools and community colleges.

Curricula vary among surgical technology programs, but the following courses are typically included:

•Anatomy and Physiology
•Medical Terminology
•Medical Law and Ethics
•Surgical Pharmacology
•Surgical Technology
•Surgical Procedures

Depending on the program, you may need to take some electives and/or general education courses as well. Most surgical technology programs require you to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent degree before applying. After completing your program, you can enhance your resume by applying for certification from the National Center for Competency Testing or the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. A few states require certification before you can work in the field, but most do not.

Bachelor’s Degree – Surgical Nurse

Also known as a perioperative nurse, a surgical nurse is a healthcare professional who works as part of a surgical team and provides care to patients before, during and after surgery. Surgical nurses may also act as intermediaries between the surgical team and a patient’s family.

To become a surgical nurse, you must first become a registered nurse by obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and passing the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN. Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs varies, but typical courses include:

•Academic Writing
•Anatomy and Physiology
•Cultural Studies/ Ethics
•Intro to Nursing Science
•Maternal Child Nursing
•Design and Coordination of Care
•Mental Health Nursing
•Illness and Disease Management
•Population Focused Nursing
•Nursing Leadership
•Nursing Research

Depending on the program, you may also be required to complete certain general education courses and/or a minimum number of electives. If you plan to work as a surgical nurse, it’s best to choose electives focusing on surgery, if possible. It usually takes approximately four years of full-time study to complete a bachelor’s degree program. However, you may be able to complete the program in less than four years, if you already have an associate’s degree.
While some employers may allow you to begin working as a surgical nurse with only an RN license, others may require you to obtain certification from the Association of Perioperative Nurses. To obtain certification, you must have at least two years and 2,400 hours experience working in a perioperative setting, and you must pass the Certified Nurse Operating Room Examination.

Doctor of Medicine – Surgeon

A surgeon is a licensed physician who diagnoses or treats medical problems using surgical techniques.

To become a surgeon, you must first earn a Doctor of Medicine degree. In most cases, a Doctor of Medicine program requires four years of full-time study after completing an undergraduate degree. Doctor of Medicine curricula typically include the following courses:

•Behavioral Science
•Human Development
•Infection and Immunity

Students must also complete hands-on clinical training in a variety of specialties, including:

•Family Medicine
•Internal Medicine
•Obstetrics and Gynecology
•Emergency Medicine

After obtaining a Doctor of Medicine degree, you must also complete a surgical residency program in the specialty of your choice. Surgical specialties include:

•Plastic Surgery
•Orthopaedic Surgery
•Obstetrics and Gynecology
•Neurological Surgery
•General Surgery

Finally, you must obtain a state license before you can begin practicing as a surgeon. State licensure requirements vary, but you must typically complete an approved degree program, complete an approved residency program and pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.

Surgeons are not always required to become certified in their specialties. However, if you decide to become a surgeon, board certification can enhance your resume.

Choosing a Program

Regardless of your chosen surgical career, choosing a degree program is one of the most important decisions you will face. Before you make your selection, consider the factors listed below.


One of the most important considerations when comparing degree programs is whether or not a given program is approved by your state. If your state requires you to become certified or licensed before you can begin working, choosing an approved program is essential.


Certain professional organizations offer accreditation to degree programs that meet specific standards for quality and effectiveness. Attending an accredited program can enhance your resume and your education. However, keep in mind that an accredited program is not necessarily approved by your state, and vice versa.


A program’s ranking tells you how it compares to similar programs from other facilities. This characteristic is especially important when choosing a medical school. Whenever possible, choose programs with higher rankings over programs with lower ones.

Retention Rate

A program’s retention rate tells you how many students that begin the program are able to satisfy its requirements and graduate. Programs with low retention rate tend to be more challenging or offer less support to students than those with higher retention rates. Thus, it’s usually better to choose a program with a higher retention rate.

Examination Pass Rate/Average Scores

If you must take an examination in order to become licensed or certified, it’s wise to find out how a program’s previous students have performed on the same test. The better the pass rate and/or average score, the more effectively the program prepared its students.

Employment Rate

After completing a program, you will need to find a job. Because some programs carry more weight with potential employers than others do, it’s helpful to inquire about the employment rate among graduates of a given program. Try to choose a program with a higher percentage of employed graduates.

Faculty-to-Student Ratios

Surgical degree programs can be challenging, and most students will need some one-on-one attention from faculty members. However, if a program’s faculty-to-student ratio is too high, teachers may not have enough time to provide students with individualized instruction. Compare faculty-to-student ratios from the programs you are considering and try to choose one with a lower ratio.

Program Flexibility

Although medical school typically requires full-time study, nursing and surgical technology programs may not. If you are considering one of these programs and you have other obligations, such as a family or job, look for a program with flexible scheduling options. For example, many programs offer part-time study and/or online courses to qualifying students.

Tuition and Fees

Tuition can be costly, especially if you plan to attend medical school. Be sure to inquire about the full amount of tuition and fees you will pay to attend your program before you submit an application.

Financial Aid and Payment Plans

If you cannot afford to pay tuition and fees on your own, try to find a program that offers financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships or federal student loans. Some programs may also offer payment plans to students who cannot afford to pay all of their fees upfront.

Beginning Your Career

Choosing a career path is life-changing. Before you begin pursuing a given career, make sure that you can satisfy all of your state’s requirements for licensure or certification. Likewise, keep in mind that all degree programs have their own prerequisites. Before you spend your time and money applying to a program, check these prerequisites to make sure you qualify.

Scholarships for Students Interested in Becoming a Surgeon

Bill Kane Undergraduate Scholarship CANfit Program Scholarships Gates Millenium Scholarship
The Hispanic Health Professional Student Scholarship The Leopold Schepp Foundation Scholarship The Marion B. Pollock Fellowship
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Undergraduate Scholarship Tylenol Future Care Scholarship Gallagher Health Careers Scholarship
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