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A Job Guide to Surgical Careers

Emily Topping

Getting into any sort of medical field is exciting, ambitious, and incredibly rewarding. But it is also why it takes a lot of skill, education, and drive to want to get into this line of work and possibly even more if someone was wanting to move into surgery and become specialised in a certain field like Neurosurgery or Plastics.

So, what sort of specialised areas can a surgeon go into?

Cardiothoracic Surgery

This type of surgeon deals with the illnesses of the heart, lungs, oesophagus, and chest. Surgery includes cardiac surgery (heart and great vessels), thoracic surgery (organs within the thorax, excluding the heart), transplantation and heart failure surgery, oesophageal surgery and congenital surgery in adults and children.

Procedures done in this field are usually very major and often complex, and surgeries can last for many hours without breaks because of the potential complications that come with this type of surgery.

Within cardiac surgery, the most common operation is the coronary artery bypass grafting and valve operations. As in thoracic surgery, the most common surgery to be found is lobectomy or pneumonectomy for carcinoma of the lung.

Working conditions are usually spread across evenly to ensure that operating, outpatient work, admin and paperwork are covered without stressing out surgeons too much.

General Surgery

This role is for individuals that want to do an array of surgeries as these can include breast, endocrine, colorectal, upper and lower gastrointestinal (GI), transplant and vascular. Laparoscopic surgery may also be practised as a sub-speciality and is used across all general surgery.

With general surgery most emergencies that are referred to general are because of acute pain in the abdominal area, though, with areas like trauma, these require a more holistic approach and a very wide range of skills and experiences that does mean a lot of general surgeons will work alongside specialist to get to the root cause of the problem with a patient.

Most of the work done in general is emergency usually, as these surgeons have a wide range of skills to be able to deal with situations as they appear and use the specialist that is right for the patient if they are not able to resolve the situation.


This type of surgery involves the brain, central nervous system, and the spinal cord. Surgery in this field covers all aspects of the brain from pre-operative imaging to the removal of tumours. Some surgeons even work on cancerous patients that involve the brain, other types of surgery are functional neurosurgery (a wide range of neurological problems, including intractable pain, epilepsy and movement disorders), traumatology, and neurovascular surgery, skull-base surgery or spinal surgery.

Spinal surgery is the largest sub-speciality, which contributes to around 50% of the operational workload that these surgeons have, and there is an opportunity to just practice spinal surgery if the surgeon wishes to do so.

Neurosurgeons spend a lot of their time working on trauma and emergency patients like road traffic collisions in which the patient has suffered major head or spinal injuries. They still need to cover paperwork, interacting with patients and post-operative care and will cover 4-5 operating sessions within a week.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

Surgery that involves facial bones, face, and neck. They can be rather minor surgeries to very complex major head surgeries. An amazing skill that these surgeons have is that they work with both hard and soft tissue and can specialise in head and neck oncology, adult facial deformity, orthognathic surgery, cleft surgery, and facial trauma management.

These surgeons also usually don't need to be 'on-call' for emergencies, a lot of their workload is pre-booked and scheduled. Though they will have a lot of emergency cases, only when it is major surgery will it be done within a quick time. Otherwise, they can be slipped into the next working day.

Another key piece of information that needs to be mentioned is that these surgeons need to have a medical degree and a dental degree to practice.

Otolaryngology (ENT)

All aspects of the head and neck region, this means skull base and facial plastic surgery. Specialist areas include paediatric ENT, head and neck, voice and complex airway, otology (ear) and rhinology (nose). ENT manages surgical and medical disorders and involves many paediatric cases.

A lot of the work (over 70%) is done on a day-case basis. Surgical practice is usually done a couple of days a week and most surgeons in this field are ones that wish to have a more flexible working schedule.

Paediatric Surgery

Surgical treatment of diseases, malformations, and trauma of childhood years, from foetal to teenage. Areas include neonatal surgery, urological surgery, hepatobiliary surgery, GI surgery and oncological surgery. Paediatric surgeons perform 11% of all operations on children. Same as with ENT, most cases are done on a day-care basis and have a low level of emergency work.

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