What Major Should I Choose To Be A Surgeon

Last Updated on December 28, 2022

My name is Dr. Mark and I hold a Ph.D in psychology. Before I earned my doctoral degree, however, I had no idea what to major in college. Every student needs to pick a major, but finding the career that fits you best can be difficult for students who know that they want to work with people but aren’t sure exactly how. Students often lean toward one of the “health” majors—such as child development or nursing—but these are specific careers within a broader umbrella. My blog is geared toward helping students decide between three common majors: English, Philosophy and Psychology.

You may find it hard to access the right information on the internet, so we are here to help you in the following article, providing the best and updated information on majors and minors for surgeons , also what major do you need to be a brain surgeon We at college learners .com have all the information that you need about what major should i choose to be a cardiothoracic surgeon Read on to learn more.

3 Reasons to Become a Surgeon

about what major should i choose to be a surgeon

A specialist surgeon is someone who focuses on a particular field of medicine such as cardiology, neurology, or another specific medical field. All specialist doctors have many years of education and training in their chosen areas. But before you learn how to become a surgeon who specializes in a single discipline, there are preliminary steps you need to take.

First, you will need to become a medical doctor. Becoming a medical doctor requires, depending on the state/country you live in, that you obtain a premedical science degree and follow it up with a medical degree. More often than not, your undergraduate degree will take about four years, and medical school will require another four.

Second, it is beneficial to gain real-world experience for several years as a general practitioner before going into a specific branch of medicine.

Third, you’ll have to apply for admission as a candidate to the training program of the surgical department of a medical school. The admission criteria for a trainee as a general surgeon are strict, and competition is usually fierce. This training could last from five to eight years. At that point, you can become certified in that field of surgery.

What are the attributes that I need to become a surgeon?

Successful surgeons possess specific characteristics and outlooks that contribute to fulfilling careers. Although a strong desire to become a surgeon is paramount, and the tenacity to persevere through ten or more years of formal training is essential, you must possess other attributes as well. Without them, a career in surgery may prove challenging and unrewarding.

In addition to the ability to think on your feet, problem-solve and work well under high levels of stress, you must also be able to manage:

  • Crises and emergency situations.
  • Long and grueling hours.
  • Extended periods of absolute concentration without breaks.
  • Working with your mind and your hands.

You must also possess:

  • Physical dexterity. Although you can acquire a certain amount of dexterity through practice, some of it is an innate ability. If you have had difficulty with dexterity throughout your life, surgery may prove difficult for you.
  • Respect for the human body and human life. Although the field of surgery may provide you with a very comfortable lifestyle, to be successful, your primary motivation must be a love of and respect for the human body and human life. Without it, patients may see you as less than genuine and not trust you.
  • Love of anatomy. A thorough knowledge of anatomy is the foundation of surgery.
  • Intelligence. If you struggle with your studies despite putting in effort daily, you may benefit from submitting yourself for psychological assessment to ascertain if you have the intellectual capacity to become a doctor or a surgeon.

Basic Principles Applied in Surgery

Regardless of the surgical specialty, or type of surgery performed, every surgeon applies fundamental principles in the operating room. Because it contains innate properties, human tissue reacts to injuries in predictable ways. So, over time a set of guidelines evolved to promote optimal healing. Commonly referred to as the basic principles of surgery, every surgeon, regardless of specialty or type of surgery performed, follows them in the operating room.

  • Diagnosis and preoperative assessment. An incorrect diagnosis may result in inappropriate, ineffective and possibly unnecessary treatment.
  • The consideration of alternative non-surgical treatment modalities. Because most surgery is invasive, it should be the last resort.
  • Proper treatment planning. It is said that good surgeons always operate twice. They visualize and plan the operation mentally before doing the actual surgery. Assisting the surgeon in this planning process are tracings, computer assisted simulations, model surgery, etc.
  • Minimum invasionWhen possible, consider alternatives to open surgery.
    • Scope-assisted surgery versus an open surgical procedure.
    • Interventive radiology/angiography.
    • Surgical procedures to the heart requiring the opening of the chest are being replaced in some instances by minimally invasive procedures performed by accessing the inside of an artery and performing the relevant procedure with radiographic (X-ray) assistance.
    • Good visual conditions. Surgeons must be able to clearly see the area they’re working on.
    • Exposure of the surgical site. This takes place when the surgical incision is made, and dissection is performed to reach the intended surgical site.
    • Retraction is the “pulling” away of tissue to offer the surgeon maximum exposure to the surgical site.
    • Surgical assistants and nursing staff have noted that successful surgeons always seem to complain about the light.
    • Suctioning and sponging. This is necessary to remove excess blood which may obscure the operative field.
    • Some noted physicians in history were handicapped by blindness, but not so with surgeons.
    • Handle tissue gently causing as little injury as possible. This amounts to having respect for the human body as well as an understanding of the processes involved in the repair and healing of wounds.
    • Proper control of bleeding within the limits of:
    • Minimal electrocautery.
    • Minimal suturing.
    • Minimal sponging.
    • Every action must be purposeful. For safety and economic reasons, in the operating theater, time is of the essence. Do not waste time in the OT.
    • Sterility and asepsis. All surgical instruments must be sterile (the complete absence of microorganisms), and the operative field must be as aseptic (minimizing and weakening microorganisms) as possible.

Other principles applied are not surgical in nature, but are still critical to patient comfort, trust and confidence.

  • Anatomical considerations. A surgeon needs to have a detailed knowledge of the structure of the human body.
  • Physiological considerations. A surgeon must have a comprehensive understanding of how the human body functions.
  • Patient considerationsIt’s critical for surgeons and members of the surgical team to take into account the fears and preconceived ideas of the patient about surgery and its outcomes.
  • Social. Certain diseases are more prevalent in specific socioeconomic groups than in others.
  • Religious. The transfusion of blood or transplantation of organs is a taboo in some religious groups.
  • Financial. What are the economic implications of the proposed operation to the patient/healthcare organization?
  • Expectations. What is the expected outcome and success of the procedure?
  • CommunicationIt is essential the patient understands the parameters, risks, and limitations of surgery and anesthesia. Providing information on scars and other conditions that may be present after surgery is necessary so that the patient is as prepared as possible for the operation and what may transpire when it is finished.
  • Information. This includes data about the proposed procedure and any alternatives. The patient must also be informed about any potential pain or discomfort that may be experienced, as well given pre- and postoperative instructions.
  • Implications. Will the patient be able to continue with normal activities e.g., studies/work/sport/hobbies? If not, will the condition be temporary or permanent? Does the patient need a medical certificate?
  • Complications. What can go wrong during and after the operation?
  • Prognosis. What is the success rate of the surgical procedure, and for how long will the benefits of the operation last?

Various Disciplines in the Field of Surgery

The American College of Surgeons recognizes multiple surgical specialties [1]. As you consider the type of specialty that is best for you, it’s helpful to review your available options.

  • General surgery is performed by surgeons trained to manage surgical procedures covering almost any area of the body. Within general surgery are subspecialties that include the following:
  • Colon and Rectal Surgery is also known as proctology. The focus is on the diagnosis and treatment of disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, pelvic floor dysfunction and colorectal cancer.
  • Ear, nose and throat surgery, also known as otolaryngology – diseases and disorders affecting the ears and structures within the respiratory system.
  • Maxillofacial and Oral surgery also includes dental surgery – treatment for patients with face, facial skeleton, mouth and related organs injuries, diseases and disorders.
  • Neurosurgery – disorders involving the brain and spinal cord. Read the Path to Becoming a Neurologist or Neurosurgeon.
  • Obstetrics and gynecology – medical and surgical care for pregnant patients, including the development of the fetus and disorders of female reproductive organs.
  • Ophthalmic surgery – diseases and disorders of the eye, vision, and contents of the eye socket.
  • Orthopedic surgery – anything having to do with the musculoskeletal system including bones, muscles, and joints. Subspecialties of orthopedics are:
    • Foot and ankle
    • Hand – includes upper extremities.
    • Joint replacement – mostly the hips and knees, but can include the ankles and shoulders.
    • Oncology – treatment for benign and malignant tumors of the musculoskeletal system.
    • Pediatrics – orthopedic conditions in children.
    • Spine – manages the care and treatment of back problems.
    • Sports – focuses on patients who are athletes and individuals suffering from athletic injuries.
    • Trauma orthopedics is a growing field. Patients are individuals with critical or multiple injuries to the musculoskeletal system.
  • Pediatric surgery – disorders for individuals still considered children, including teenagers. There are multiple subspecialties within this area.
    • Neonatal – newborn care.
    • Prenatal – fetal care.
    • Trauma – Because children take lots of risks and end up hurting themselves, pediatric surgeons frequently face situations involving traumatic injuries sustained by children.
    • Oncology – malignant tumors and benign growths.
  • Plastic and maxillofacial surgery – cosmetic procedures and the repair of body parts after the loss of tissue such as an ear. Thorough knowledge of the musculoskeletal system is critical.
  • Thoracic surgery – anything in the chest area, but primarily the heart and lungs.
  • Urology – manages benign and malignant medical and surgical disorders of the adrenal gland and the genitourinary system for both males and females.
  • Vascular surgery – treats diseases impacting the arteries and veins throughout the body. Hardening of the arteries may be the most common problem that vascular surgeons treat.

Types of Surgery

Once you become a surgeon, you may be called upon to perform one or all of the following types of procedures.

  • Open surgery is when a surgeon makes an incision with a scalpel, inserts instruments into the opening and performs surgery. An example of open surgery is a surgeon making an incision with a steel scalpel in the abdominal skin to perform a gastric operation.
  • Aspirationis a type of biopsy procedure where fluid and diseased tissue are removed by a needle for laboratory examination. An example of this is a breast biopsy where the tissue removed is sent to a lab to determine if it is cancerous.
  • Cryosurgery is a minimally invasive treatment where diseased tissue is destroyed by freezing it. Skin tumors, skin tags, and even freckles can be removed by this method of surgery.
  • Electrosurgery uses electrical instruments operating on high-frequency electric currents. Electric currents can harden tissue, or destroy it. In essence, a surgeon “burns” away diseased tissue, or growths, or make surgical incisions while the electric current seals off blood vessels at the same time, thus minimizing bleeding.
  • Laser surgery utilizes a laser beam to make bloodless cuts in tissue or to remove surface lesions. Lasers can be used for eye surgery, removal of skin marks and small tumors.
  • Scope surgery is minimally invasive since it does not involve slitting open the body as a surgeon does in open surgery. Some common scope surgeries include laparoscopy, endoscopy, and colonoscopy.
  • Shockwaves is a noninvasive surgical technique where soundwaves are used to break apart kidney stones. However, the sound, or shockwaves come from outside the body. Currently it is considered the surgery of choice to break apart large kidney stones.
  • Ultrasonic scalpels use soundwaves to make surgical incisions that minimize This type of surgery is used when extreme precision is needed to remove small and delicate tissues, but can also be used for large tissue removal.

majors and minors for surgeons

There is no major called “pre-med”, nor is there any particular major which is required for admission to medical schools. Bradley University offers a wide range of excellent majors, courses and opportunities which prepare students well for admission to medical schools. Students should choose a major based on their personal interests and abilities, and then meet with both their Academic (within their major) and Pre-Health Advisor (Dr. Bennett) regularly to ensure that they are taking the necessary courses (and at the right time) to meet their major and graduation requirements, as well as required and recommended courses for admission to medical schools. These pre-requisites can be taken as part of the major, Bradley Core, or free electives towards graduation, thus allowing students flexibility with their choice of major, and the ability to customize their pre-med plan.

The following majors and minors are most popular among pre-med students, because they incorporate many of the pre-requisite courses into the major requirements:

What Major Do You Need To Be A Brain Surgeon

Since medical school acceptance is notorious for being challenging and competitive, aspiring surgeons often obsess over which undergraduate major to choose. If you’re stressing about choosing the “right” major for a career as a surgeon, here’s the good news: your choice of major won’t necessarily make or break your ability to realize your career plans. Certainly, there are some college majors that might raise a few eyebrows among medical school admissions personnel, but generally, acceptance to medical school isn’t restricted to students in certain majors. As long as you meet the prerequisites for medical school and your application is strong in all other respects, your undergraduate major can be in almost any subject.

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What to Major in to Become a Surgeon

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The first thing to keep in mind when planning a career as a surgeon is that there is no undergraduate major that, in and of itself, will qualify you to pursue licensure as a surgeon. Only a doctoral-level medical degree – the Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) will accomplish that task. A bachelor’s degree is just one step on the lengthy path to this career.

When aspiring surgeons think about their major options, they should think about every part of this path.

  • What undergraduate degree program will help them perform well on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), the standardized test you must take to get into medical school?
  • Which majors will meet all of the required undergraduate coursework to get accepted into medical school and provide a solid foundation in science upon which your doctoral-level medical school studies will build? Alternatively, how difficult will it be to take additional science and math coursework during your studies, either as elective courses or in pursuit of a minor or concentration?
  • What majors will help you develop the non-technical skills and abilities needed to make a good surgeon, such as communication skills, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, compassion, cultural sensitivity, organizational skills and physical dexterity?

These different stops along the path to becoming a surgeon require different strengths, which you may learn through different programs of study, training programs, and experiences. You might find that majoring in science makes the most sense to you for preparing for medical school but studying the liberal arts is what helps you cultivate the soft skills that will make you a better physician whose patients trust that they are in good hands. Alternatively, if you feel confident already about your level of science knowledge but you’re concerned about your ability to handle the intense workload of medical school studies, you might opt to choose an undergraduate major in the humanities or social sciences that encompasses a lot of reading and writing to get used to these demands.

Most medical school admissions committees do not place a significant amount of attention on an applicant’s major. Committees are more interested in finding students who have maintained a respectable GPA, sought out experience in health care settings or research, and are likely to be successful in the medical world. It is best to pick one of these majors that suits your own individual interests and career goals instead of choosing a major solely because you think it’s what surgeons are “supposed” to study as undergraduate students. Generally, the subjects that are widely considered to be the best majors for surgeons include science topics like human physiology, biology, health sciences, chemistry and biomedical sciences and bioengineering.

If you’re tempted to just choose the major that seems like the most direct route to becoming a surgeon – biology or pre-med – you should consider weighing your decision more carefully. While there’s nothing wrong with deciding to enroll in these programs of study, you should give the decision enough thought to feel confident that you chose the right major and prepared to explain to others, like medical school admissions personnel, why you chose your major. 

What Do Surgeons Major in as Undergraduates?

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It’s not a mystery what medical students majored in as undergraduates. The  Association of American Medical Colleges collects that data, as the American Medical Association reported. Among the 22,239 students who enrolled in medical school in 2020, 60 percent – 12,845 students – had a background that related in some way to the biological sciences. The next single largest major was physical science, which accounted for 2,240 students, or over 10 percent of medical school students. Former social science majors made up 1,991 of all medical school students, while a noticeably smaller amount of students, 832, majored in the humanities. Just 784 medical students focused their undergraduate studies on specialized health sciences, and only 156 majored in math and statistics.

Despite the inclusion of the social sciences and the humanities, this data makes it seem that medical students overwhelmingly majored in the hard sciences. However, the American Medical Association pointed out that the second-largest group of students involved in the survey was the group classified as “other” majors. This “other” major accounts for more than 15 percent of medical school students, which illustrates that even less popular (and conventional) majors can still get you into medical school.

Interestingly, the data didn’t link any major with a particular advantage in getting into medical school. You might expect biological science majors to perform better on their MCAT exam and get into medical school with higher rates – and it’s likely that many of these biological science majors assumed this to be true. However, biological science majors achieved only a 40 percent matriculation rate, which the American Medical Association reported is actually lower than the matriculation rate of several other majors, and the MCAT scores for students of biological sciences were right in the middle of the scores found for all majors – not bad, but not exceptionally good, either.

The American Medical Association noted that the math and science coursework found in many of these most popular majors for medical students were in line with the prerequisites for going to medical school. Students often choose these science-based majors because the curriculum makes it easy to meet medical school prerequisites, whereas majoring in a less science-based subject would necessitate taking a lot of extra science courses not required for the degree. 

what to major in to become a surgeon

Pre-Med Studies for Aspiring Surgeons

A consistently popular program of study for aspiring surgeons is pre-medical studies, or pre-med. Officially, though, pre-med isn’t a major at all but instead an academic track that consists of the coursework normally required for admission into a medical school program. Students in different majors can follow a pre-med track, and not all pre-med students actually want to be doctors.

The courses that make up a school’s pre-med program will usually include laboratory courses in the principles of biology, cell biology, genetics, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics and vertebrate physiology. Non-laboratory courses in a pre-med program may include psychology, sociology, statistics and ethics. 

Students in any major can follow a pre-med track by using their free electives to complete any pre-med courses that aren’t already part of their major curriculum. The following are some of the most popular majors to combine with coursework in pre-medical studies.

Majoring in Human Physiology

In a Bachelor of Science in Human Physiology program, students focus on learning in-depth material about various components of the human body. Human physiology is the study of the functions of the human body at the molecular, cellular, and organism levels. The coursework required for this major provides a strong foundation in biology, statistics, physics, chemistry, and mathematics across a broad range of health topics. Human physiology is one of the ideal degree programs for students who are planning to pursue advanced medical degrees, but it can also open new doors for engaging in clinical research as well.

Physiology often goes hand in hand with anatomy. While the field of anatomy looks at the structures of the body and their relationships with other parts, physiology is concerned with the functions those structures serve. 

Earning an Undergraduate Degree in Biology

A Bachelor of Science in Biology degree program provides all of the fundamental knowledge necessary for students who aspire to become physicians, surgeons, dentists, or other members of the medical team. As the primary life science, biology enables students to learn about various diverse fields of study, from anatomy and physiology to molecular biology and ecology. Through required laboratory courses, students gain vital critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are assets for all contributors to the medical industry.

Year after year, biology and biological science are popular majors, and not only among aspiring surgeons. For the 2017 through 2018 school year, students earned 73,983 bachelor’s degrees in biology and biological sciences, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

Studying Health Sciences as a Major

When students choose the Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences major program, the curriculum is based on broadening their understanding of all the mental and social factors that play prominent roles in achieving overall good health. Health sciences programs are more interdisciplinary than most of the science-based majors you might consider as a prospective surgeon, balancing coursework in biology, physiology, organic chemistry, nutrition, mathematics, psychology, ethics and health care policy.

Since the health sciences major is quite flexible, students are prepared for multiple different careers related to human health, such as physical or occupational therapist, physician assistant, pharmacist, athletic trainer, nurse and public health worker or advocate. Most colleges and universities that offer this major combine it with all the necessary pre-medical courses needed for medical school.

Some health sciences programs allow students to pursue optional concentrations and specializations in areas like medical sciences, exercise science, leadership and community wellness and public health. 

Pursuing a Chemistry Degree

A Bachelor of Science in Chemistry is another commonly chosen degree program for students who wish to become surgeons or physicians. Majoring in chemistry ensures that the two years of college chemistry requirement for medical school will be surpassed, whether or not you’re part of a pre-med program. Students often engage in courses on organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, physics, biology, calculus, statistics, and computer science for a well-rounded degree.

Around 14,040 students earned a bachelor’s degree in general chemistry during the 2017 through 2018 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

Earning a Bachelor’s in Biomedical Sciences and Biomedical Engineering

If you’re interested in the application of biology principles and techniques to the field of medicine, you might want to explore degree options in biomedical sciences or biomedical engineering. These programs of study can help you develop the skills to innovate new medical technologies.

Biomedical sciences and bioengineering are relatively new fields of study, but they are growing rapidly. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that 4,460 bachelor’s degrees in biomedical sciences and 7,416 bachelor’s degrees in bioengineering and biomedical engineering were awarded for the 2017 through 2018 school year.

Biomedical engineering is one large and important subdiscipline within the discipline of bioengineering, which refers to any type of engineering design work that applies the tools and practices of engineering to biological systems and materials.

Surgeon Preparation Beyond the Bachelor’s Degree

If you want to be a surgeon, you’re looking at a long journey just to get your career started. Assuming you finish your bachelor’s degree on time, you’re looking at eight years of schooling – four for your undergraduate degree and another four for medical school.

After you graduate from medical school, you begin the first year of your residency, also known as your internship year. All told, surgical residencies will last for a minimum of five years, and residencies in some surgical specialties take as long as seven years to complete, according to the American College of Surgeons. Surgeons spend longer on residency training than many other types of doctors, for whom residency may take as little as three years. Physicians must also complete licensing exams to be fully qualified to practice medicine, and this requires taking exams like the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX).

Surgical residents do get paid for their work, but they don’t make anywhere near the kind of money full surgeons make. While the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual salary of $251,650 for surgeons in 2020, the job search website Indeed reported that the average surgical resident salaries were only in the range of $60,000 to $65,000 in 2022.

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