What is a general surgeon?

March 2, 2017

A diseased gallbladder. A breast tumor. An obstructed bowel. All of these diverse conditions often iStock-501707098.jpgrequire surgery to treat them, and chances are the doctor who is going to perform those operations is a general surgeon.

What they do

General surgeons are trained to diagnose and manage a wide range of diseases and disorders that may require surgical treatment. Their area of expertise is, essentially, the entire body. It includes:

  • The head and neck.
  • The endocrine system, including the pancreas and thyroid gland.
  • Breasts.
  • All parts of the digestive tract, including the intestines and rectum.
  • The abdominal organs, such as the stomach and liver.
  • Skin and soft tissues.

 General surgeons are also trained in the care of pediatric and cancer patients and the treatment of patients who are injured or critically ill.

Education and training

To become a general surgeon, a person must complete four years of medical school and then a five-year residency in general surgery. If he or she wants to further specialize, two or more years of training are needed.

Some of the areas in which a general surgeon can specialize include:


  • Surgical critical care.
  • Pediatric surgery.
  • End-of-life care.
  • Bariatric surgery.
  • Minimally invasive surgery.


A general surgeon may seek board certification from an organization such as the American Board of Surgery.

Certification is voluntary. To obtain it, a surgeon must pass extensive written and oral tests to show mastery in the field.

When a surgeon is board-certified, it means he or she has met the highest standards for education, training and knowledge.

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