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by Staff Reporter
If you have a passion for medicine, good hand-eye coordination, a high level of dedication and can make difficult decisions under pressure, a career as a surgeon could be for you. 

Career Overview

A surgeon is a doctor who specialises in performing surgery to prevent the spread of diseases, correct deformities, repair injuries and improve bodily functions.  In the medical field, this career is one many aspire to.  In general, surgeons will specialise in one of the following areas: 

  • cardiothoracic: you would focus on any chest surgeries, hence operating on the heart and lungs
  • general: these surgeons have a wide range of knowledge and skills so that they are equipped to deal with any surgical emergency, with a focus on all acute abdominal problems – this includes the liver, colon, stomach and pancreas
  • neurosurgery: you would perform surgery on parts of the nervous system – this encompasses the brain and spinal cord 
  • oral and maxillofacial: this type of surgery involves treatment of any disease that affects the mouth, jaws, face and neck 
  • otolaryngology: these surgeons are also known as ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeons. ENTs specialise in a wide range of diseases of the head and neck
  • paediatric: you would be involved with any surgery on premature babies, children and young adults (generally up to the age of 18)
  • plastic: as a plastic surgeon, you would deal with any surgical reconstruction as well as restoration or alteration of the human body – surgeons who specialise in plastics can perform both cosmetic or aesthetic surgery as well as treating burns
  • trauma:  this type of surgeon uses surgical treatments to treat a wide range of conditions and often work spontaneous and under time high time pressure
  • orthopaedic: you would deal in any operation involving the musculoskeletal system which includes bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and nerves.

These are the main types of specialisations.  Regardless of the specialisation, surgeons are often tasked with either saving lives or improving the quality of live

Required School Subjects

You will need to have taken the following subjects at high school:

  • Mathematics (matric level)
  • Physical Science (matric level)

Recommended subjects:

  • Life Sciences

Institution and APS

You have to possess a MBChB before applying for studies as a surgeon. An entrance exam will have to be written.

Some of the best institutions in this field of study include:

  • University of Cape Town
  • University of Stellenbosch
  • Wits University

In general, the minimum APS for medicine is 35.

Required Qualification/s

To qualify as a surgeon, you will need to have completed the necessary technical training.  This inlcudes:

  • obtaining a MBChB degree – Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery
  • theoretical training
  • student internship
  • community service
  • 4 years of post-graduate study for specialisation as a surgeon – this requires you to be in the possession of a MBChB degree for at least two years and be registered with the Interim Medical and Dental Council as a medical doctor and for at least one year
  • registering with the IMDC as a surgeon

Required Skills

You will need to have:

  • a steady hand and good vision
  • the ability to work accurately
  • the ability to be calm in emergencies and make weighty decisions quickly
  • an aptitude for maths and science
  • physical stamina to work long and irregular hours

Where you can work

You will usually specialise in one of the following environments:

  • government institutions – training hospitals and universities
  • hospitals, clinics, nursing homes
  • defence force
  • self-employed – private practice

Working Hours

Your working hours will depend on where you work.  Hospitals require twelve hours or more, while private practice can be normal office hours – either way, a significant portion of those working hours can be spent on your feet.

Expected Salary

The pay will depend on what type of surgeon you are.  Some of the highest paid surgeons in the world are orthopedic, plastic and cardiothoracic surgeons.  The lowest salary for a surgeon in South Africa is R45 000 per month and can go up to R70 000 per month or more.

What to expect

Here are a few things you can expect from a career as a Surgeon:

  • long hours
  • having to deal with human suffering and death
  • having your leisure time interrupted by emergencies
  • being responsible for someone’s life
  • the satisfaction of saving a life

This is both a demanding and rewarding profession.

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