What do you do for a living?
I am a Doctor of Medicine who practices as a General Surgeon. General Surgery is the oldest specialty field in surgery. At one time, all surgery done in hospitals was done by a General Surgeon. As medicine has gotten more complex, the fields of Orthopedics, Neurosurgery, Gynecology, Urology, etc., have developed.
How would you describe what you do?
I practice in a five surgeon group in a rural area that has a 225 bed hospital We are a private, fee-for-service group, and not owned by a hospital.
How to become a general surgeon? You’ll need to finish high school, medical school, and 4 years of residency to become a general surgeon. You can also specialize for 2 years. See how this doctor became a general surgeon Click Here and Here.
My practice is not typical of most General Surgeons, since the majority of surgeons live in big cities and sub-specialize.
What does your work entail ?
My practice, luckily, encompasses most areas of the original practice of General Surgery. I enjoy the variety of cases I am able to handle.
I perform thyroid and parathyroid surgery, non-cardiac thoracic (chest) surgery( including infections and cancers), benign and malignant disease of the breast, abdominal surgery such as gallbladder, stomach, colon and and appendix cases, in addition to abdominal hernias. I also do some gynecology surgery such as hysterectomies, although most of these cases are done in most hospitals by gynecologists. My practice also involves vascular surgery, including abdominal aortic aneurysms. I also treat skin and soft-tissue tumors, including melanomas.
In our hospital, my partners and I are also the trauma surgeons, taking care of victims of car accidents and other types of trauma.
I am in the office one and a half days a week, in surgery two-three days a week, performing 40-50 cases a month. I usually get part of a day off each week. Although I took call every other weekend earlier in my career, I now take call every fifth weekend.
How did you get started as a general surgeon?
In high school, I always enjoyed my science classes. Our school had career days, and the physicians who would talk were always happy in their careers, and I started to look harder at this profession.
During college, an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) surgeon in my home town took me into surgery to watch him work (probably can’t do this now days) and I was hooked.
I went through medical school, though, thinking I would be an Internal Medicine specialist, but during my internship several of the Surgery residents took an interest in me, and I switched to General Surgery.
What do you like about being a general surgeon?
I like the personal rewards that General Surgery gives me. I enjoy taking a complex medical problem and figuring out what is wrong or being able to take a sick patient to the operating room, working hard during the case, and, most of the time, having the patient recover and be better than they were before the surgery. The majority of my patients appreciate the care they receive by me and my partners, and this in itself is very rewarding.
In my particular practice, I enjoy the variety of diseases I can care for and the cases I can perform. I would be bonkers if I had to do the same thing every day, like a cataract surgeon (although they are at the bank and golf course hours before me!)
What do you dislike?
I dislike several things: having to deal with insurance companies and Medicare, both of whom are constantly trying to cheapen my services and talents; getting up at night to take care of folks who are drunk or drugged and are in automobile accidents, hurting themselves or others ; taking care of people who have spent a lifetime not taking care of themselves, and having them expect miracles from my care.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
Since I live in a retirement area, about 60% of my income comes from Medicare (most Surgeon have 35-40% Medicare). 25% is private insurance, 5% Medicaid and a growing percentage, 5-10%, is no insurance.
We write off a significant amount of care, counting the discounts of Medicare and Medicaid, in addition to the charity care. The IRS does not allow us any deduction for this free or discounted care.
How much money do you make as general surgeon?
A budding Surgeon must be focused. In college, I recommend seeking counsel with your college’s pre-med advisor, who can steer you to the courses you will need to get in med school. Good grades, not making stupid mistakes out of the classroom (yes, med schools usually do background checks) and hard work help get you into medical school. General Surgery is a five year residency after medical school. Yes, it is hard work (total of 25 years of school and training). Yes, I enjoyed my training and yes, I would do it again!
What is most challenging about what you do?
Staying up with the ever changing science of surgery, and keeping focused on my patients when forces like the government and insurance companies try to do something that is not right.
What is most rewarding?
Realizing that something I am able to do with my brains or my hands is important in a patient’s life. Occasionally it is life saving, but most of the time just personally rewarding.
What advice would you offer someone considering general surgery?
The work to get here is hard, and the number of General Surgeons in the U.S. is dropping each year. Your talents will be very valuable to hospitals and patients in the future due to supply and demand of your profession.
How much time off do you get/take?
I go to one or two surgical meeting yearly, and take an additional 2-3 weeks off. I live in a vacation area, and enjoy my time off locally, also.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
They think General Surgery is like general practice, and not a five -year surgical specialty.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
I am working on some business ventures with my family. I enjoy traveling, and would like to use my surgical skills in other countries.
What else would you like people to know about what you do?
I think it is important for someone entering my profession to take time for their family and become involved in their community. Both are important parts of a balanced life.