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At a Glance

  • Usually work more than 40 hours per week
  • Need about thirteen years of study and training after high school
  • Have a state medical license
  • Work with nurses, anesthesiologists, and technicians
  • May be on-call for emergencies

Career summary

Surgeons perform surgery to diagnose and treat patients.

#No alternate titles

Surgery is used to remove or repair damage to the body from injury or disease. Surgeons repair organs and blood vessels, determine the location and extent of disorders such as cancer, and repair bones and tissue after injuries.

Most surgeons specialize in one area of the body or one type of disorder.

Before surgery, surgeons meet with patients. They ask questions to learn about a patient's medical history. They also examine patients and, if necessary, order lab tests. They also consult with the patients' other health care providers. Surgeons explain procedures they will use during surgery and answer patients' questions.

In the operating room, surgeons work with teams of people that include nurses, anesthesiologists, and surgical technicians. Surgeons assign tasks to team members. They make sure everything is sterile and all safety precautions are followed.

After the operation, surgeons make sure patients receive proper care. They check in with patients to see how they are responding to surgery.

Surgeons share similar tasks with other types of physicians, they:

Some surgeons teach at medical schools. They may also do research on procedures and treatments for disease. Surgeons must stay current on advances in medicine. Lasers and computer technology have changed the way many operations are performed. Surgeons learn new skills by working with other surgeons and taking classes.

Related careers

This career is part of the Health Science cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to surgeons.

Common work activities

Surgeons perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, surgeons:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Surgeons frequently:

It is important for surgeons to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for surgeons to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Surgeons need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a surgeon, you typically need to:

Education after high school

To become a licensed doctor, you must complete medical school. Medical schools grant a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DOM) degree. You spend the first two years of medical school in classrooms and labs. You study anatomy, biochemistry, and medicines. You also learn how to take a medical history, examine patients, and make a diagnosis. During the next two years, you work in hospitals and clinics under the supervision of physicians.

You usually need a bachelor's degree to get into medical school. While you do not need to be a pre-medicine or science major, these programs are good preparation. If you earn a liberal arts degree, be sure to take courses in physics, biology, and chemistry.

On-the-job training

While in medical school, you spend two years working as an intern in a hospital or clinic. As an intern, you rotate through internal medicine, family medicine, obstetrics, oncology, and other hospital departments.

After medical school, surgeons must complete a five-year residency program in surgery. While you are a resident, you are paid. Residents usually work in hospitals. After residency, you take additional exams in surgical medicine to become board certified.

Military training

The military provides advanced training for surgeons. However, it does not provide the initial training to become a doctor. Scholarships for advanced medical training are available in return for a required period of military service.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum (external link) may be different from your state's graduation requirements (external link). You need a very strong background in math and science to become a doctor. Take as many math and science courses as you can.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups (PDF file) that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Some surgeons work for the hospital where they completed their residency. Others begin working in a group practice.

The hiring process begins with a background check of the applicant. Employers evaluate past work experience and malpractice lawsuit records. The applicants are interviewed by several of the doctors from the facility they are applying to. Employers look for applicants with good communication skills. They look for surgeons who can relate to many different people that come to the practice for care.

Costs to workers

Surgeons who join professional associations may pay membership fees and annual dues. They may also attend courses, seminars, and workshops to update their knowledge and keep up to date on changes in their field.

Surgeons who have borrowed money to pay school expenses have large debt payments for the first few years after graduation. The average debt for medical students who graduated in 2018 was $196,520 with 83% percent owing at least $100,000. Malpractice insurance is expensive. To enter private practice, practitioners must invest in equipment, office space, and staffing costs. Estimated costs range from $75,000 to $100,000 or more.

#updated with cj's data 3/20/14 lh. Updated with data from Leo (https://www.aamc.org/download/152968/data/debtfactcard.pdf) 4/8/15 cj. updatd with data from Carol 3/31/16 lh. Updated debt info from AAMC First 2016 debt card linked to from this page https://students-residents.aamc.org/financial-aid/ 1/31/17 cj. Updated debt data 3/12/19 cj.


Surgeons must be licensed by the State of Washington as either medical or osteopathic physicians. Licensing requirements include:

For more information on the US Medical Licensing Exam, call 215.590.9500 or go to the National Board of Medical Examiners (external link) website.

Osteopathic doctors must complete 150 hours of continuing education every three years and medical doctors must complete 200 hours of continuing education every four years.

Licensing fees vary ranging from $491 (medical physicians) to $391 (osteopathic physicians) for the application. The annual renewal fee for osteopathic physicians is $441 and the biannual renewal fee for medical physicians is $657. The combined fee for an application and state exam for osteopathic practitioners is $516. The licensing and the renewal fees generally include an access fee for health-related online library journals and publications and a Washington physician health program surcharge.

For more information on medical doctors, contact:

Washington Medical Commission (external link)
PO Box 47866
Olympia, WA 98504-7866

For information on osteopathic doctors, contact:

Washington State Board of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery (external link)
PO Box 47877
Olympia, WA 98504-7865

#Checked licensing info, added CTW content, no changes to lic fees, 3/8/11, cj. Lh 6/12. Info ok 5/6/13 & 4/8/15 cj. no change as of 3/31/16 lh or 1/31/17 cj. 4/3/18 lh, 3/12/19 cj.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


#In Washington, the average entry-level wage for surgeons is $85.87 per hour ($14,884 per month).

#Updated ES wage info 08.15 sd

#According to a survey done by ECG Management Consultants, Inc., general surgeons in the state earn about $220,000 per year. Source: ECG survey cited in "Docs Brace for Cuts," PSBJ, Dec 3-9, 2004, p.1 & 43. CJ 5/12/05. Decided not to use this data.

Surgeons (SOC 29-1067)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $30.81 $83.11 (1) (1) (1)
Monthly $5,339 $14,403 (1) (1) (1)
Yearly $64,080 $172,860 (1) (1) (1)
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $27.61 $32.52 $100.16 (2) (2)
Monthly $4,785 $5,636 $17,358 (2) (2)
Yearly $57,440 $67,633 $208,338 (2) (2)
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $31.44 $85.18 (2) (2) (2)
Monthly $5,449 $14,762 (2) (2) (2)
Yearly $65,393 $177,176 (2) (2) (2)
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $34.16 $95.05 (2) (2) (2)
Monthly $5,920 $16,472 (2) (2) (2)
Yearly $71,063 $197,703 (2) (2) (2)
    Vancouver Hourly (2) (2) (2) (2) (2)
Monthly (2) (2) (2) (2) (2)
Yearly (2) (2) (2) (2) (2)
    Yakima Hourly $91.25 (2) (2) (2) (2)
Monthly $15,814 (2) (2) (2) (2)
Yearly $189,812 (2) (2) (2) (2)
United States Hourly $45.65 $96.12 (1) (1) (1)
Monthly $7,911 $16,658 (1) (1) (1)
Yearly $94,960 $199,920 (1) (1) (1)

(1) Wages are greater than $90/hour or $187,200/year.
(2) Wage estimate is not available.

Wages vary by years of experience, specialty, area of the country, and hours worked. The doctor's skill, personality, and professional reputation also affect wages. Self-employed surgeons generally earn more than those who are not self-employed.

Surgeons who work full time in a group practice generally receive benefits such as paid vacation and health insurance. 

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

#Between 2014 and 2024, it is estimated that there will be 17 openings annually due to new positions and 31 openings annually from workers leaving this career.

#Updated outlook 06.16 sd

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Surgeons (SOC 29-1067)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 692 19.8% 16.1% 47
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 11 9.1% 13.4% 0
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 14 14.3% 8.6% 0
    Benton and Franklin Counties 47 23.4% 15.0% 3
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 16 25.0% 11.9% 1
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 13 15.4% 14.1% 0
    King County 505 19.6% 19.6% 34
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 21 9.5% 13.8% 1
    Pierce County 17 17.6% 15.2% 1
    Snohomish County 14 21.4% 12.4% 1
United States 38,200 1.3% 5.2% 1,200

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for surgeons will show little to no change. As the population grows, the number of surgical procedures will increase. In addition, elderly people are more likely than younger people to need surgery. However, the increase in preventatitve methods such as therapy can reduce the need for surgery. In addition, surgical technologists can perform some of the duties that surgeons previously did.

Other resources

American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (external link)
5550 Friendship Boulevard, Suite 310
Chevy Chase, MD 20815
American College of Surgeons (external link)
633 North Saint Clair Street
Chicago, IL 60611-3295
American Medical Association (external link)
American Medical Association - Medical Student Section (external link)
American Osteopathic Association (external link)
142 East Ontario Street
Chicago, IL 60611
Aspiring Docs Website from the American Association of Medical Colleges (external link)
The Student Doctor Network (external link)
Washington Osteopathic Medical Association (external link)
PO Box 1187
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
Washington State Medical Association (external link)
2001 Sixth Avenue, Suite 2700
Seattle, WA 98121


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Holland occupational cluster