What it takes to become a surgeon

The surgeon is a doctor who specialises in performing surgery to prevent the spread of disease, to correct deformities, to repair injuries and to improve body functions

23 October 2018 - 12:00 By pace career centre
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Surgical team working in operating theatre.
Surgical team working in operating theatre.
Image: 123RF/Cathy Yeulet.

Surgeons diagnose bodily disorders and orthopaedic conditions and provide treatments, such as medicines and surgeries, in clinics, hospital wards and operating rooms. They operate on patients to correct deformities, repair injuries, prevent and treat diseases or improve or restore patients' functions. 

The surgeon examines each patient thoroughly to obtain information on their medical condition and the surgical risk, reviews the medical history, medication allergies, physical condition and examination results to verify the operation's necessity and to determine the best procedure.

They usually consult with other doctors to be certain that an operation is necessary. The procedure is explained to the patient and/or the family. They prescribe preoperative and postoperative treatments and procedures, such as sedatives, diets, antibiotics and preparation and treatment of the patient's operative area. 

They direct and coordinate the activities of nurses, assistants, specialists, residents and other medical staff. Before surgery, the surgeon checks the equipment, instruments and surgical setup to be sure everything needed is present and sterile. After surgery the patient’s condition is monitored until they have completely recovered from the operation. They prepare case histories and keep records of all patients.

Surgeons provide consultation and surgical assistance to other physicians and surgeons, and refer the patient to other medical specialists or practitioners when necessary. They need to manage surgery services, including planning, scheduling and coordination, determination of procedures, and procurement of supplies and equipment.

Surgeons also conduct research to develop and test surgical techniques that can improve operating procedures and outcomes.

Surgeons work indoors in consulting rooms, in hospitals and in operating rooms that must be sterile and temperature-controlled.  At times they may visit patients in their wards or in recovery rooms.  In addition, some surgeons may lecture at universities.

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course each institution has its own entry requirements. Note: Competition to enter medical studies is stiff and there are usually many applicants with excellent grades who would naturally be given preference.

What to Study

MBChB degree

  • Theoretical training: 6 years.
  • Student internship: 1 year.
  • Practical work at a hospital: 1 year (also known as the house doctor year).
  • be in possession of a MBChB degree for 2 years;
  • be registered as a medical doctor with the Interim Medical and Dental Council (IMDC) of South Africa for 1 year.


  • private practice
  • hospitals and other health care facilities
  • medical schools
  • government departments
  • the Defence Force

Getting Started

  • do voluntary work for a health care facility
  • try to obtain part-time or voluntary work at a general hospital or other health care facility
  • do first aid courses with such organisations as St John’s Ambulance
  • make an appointment to speak to a medical doctor and a surgeon about this type of career

-For more information visit Go Study.

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