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Whether you are a student or already in training, you may have some questions about what it takes to become a surgeon. Below, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about a surgical career. If your question isn't answered here, or in the careers section of our website, you can email us.

What qualifications do I need to get into surgery?

In order to train as a surgeon in the UK you must fulfil some essential criteria. UCAS provide school students with up to date information on the A Levels required to enter medical schools in the UK. Once at university, you will need to pass your exams and ensure you are participating in extra-curricular activities to help boost your CV. Volunteering is a great way to become involved with other organisations, whilst showing your commitment to medicine. The required qualifications for each level of surgical training are subject to change. We recommend reading the person specifications for each level of training in advance, so you know what is required and you can begin to work towards gaining the essential criteria. 

What is work-life balance like for surgeons?

The working hours of doctors are capped at an average of 48 hours per week and surgery is no exception. Less than full-time training (LTFT) can provide everyone, regardless of gender, with more time, for example to raise a family or pursue extra-curricular activities. The RCS have a Flexible Training and Working advisor, as well on guidance and advice on how to work less than full time as a surgeon.

What is the competition like for getting into surgery?

Although competition for surgical training posts has decreased in the last 10 years, the quality of surgical trainees has been maintained. Like getting into medical school, competition is associated with all career choices. Health Education England provide competition ratios on their website as well as person specifications, so you can understand what is needed at each level of training. Our Careers in Surgery booklet also provides information on how best to prepare for surgical training, including building your portfolio. 

Do I have the right personality to become a surgeon?

The stereotypical image of a surgeon is becoming a thing of the past. All personality types embark upon a career in surgery, and you will find most surgeons to be approachable, supportive and enthusiastic about their work. 

Is there diversity in surgery?

Campaigns to widen access to surgery and create a workforce that more accurately represents the patients that you will care for are changing the face of surgery. Regardless of your age, gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation there has never been a better time to pursue a surgical career. The Women in Surgery initiative run by RCS England is an active and ever-growing network that is supported by all of the surgical colleges.

What should I do if I have a bad experience during my surgical training?

Don’t let a bad experience put you off. If a particular surgical training experience is not enjoyable, identify other trainers who will inspire you. Make enquiries with fellow students, including your university’s surgical society, surgical trainees and your tutors for advice on who and where to find the best surgical experiences.

What should I do if I have poor surgical/anatomical knowledge?

Learning doesn’t stop at medical school and there are multiple ways to enhance your knowledge as both an undergraduate and a postgraduate trainee. Seek opportunities to develop your knowledge through operating theatre exposure and attendance at events organised by the RCS and surgical societies. Trainee surgical associations like the Association of Surgeons in Training (ASiT) and the British Orthopaedic Trainees Association (BOTA) also run events throughout the year.

I am worried about the cost of training, is it expensive to become a surgeon?

Surgeons are required to attend courses and complete postgraduate exams in order to progress with training. Financial support when attending courses is available, with recent changes meaning that trainees in England are fully reimbursed for mandatory courses, like Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS). Some additional expenses are tax deductible. The RCS provide a number of bursaries and awards too.

I am an international student wishing to train in the UK, where should I start?

If you wish to complete your training in the UK, you will first need to assess the training level to which you should apply by comparing your experience and competencies to those outlined on the ISCP website and in the person specifications for each level of training on the Health Education England website. Once you understand where you are on the UK training pathway, you can decide which training level you should apply to.

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