Surgery is the field of medicine that often determines whether people live or die. From the trauma patient involved in a high-speed motor vehicle crash to the patient with newly diagnosed breast cancer, it is the one specialty that has the capacity to heal and salvage the lives of people afflicted with disease. There is the proverbial saying that “nothing heals like cold steel.” This mantra of every surgical resident yearning for operating time rings true on all levels of the surgical hierarchy. Since there is so much at stake with surgical procedures and the care of critically ill patients, the residency training is extremely intense. The demands are physical, intellectual, and at times emotional. The decision to pursue a general surgery career or subspecialty is often difficult, but definitely a rewarding one. Whether you are interested in performing open-heart surgery or inguinal hernia repair, you must first go through rigorous training in general surgery—the foundation and entry point for most areas of surgical training.
Surgery, the treatment of disease by operation, is often definitive therapy—many times curative—for a broad range of conditions affecting all organ systems. The general surgeon treats diseases of the entire body, from the skin to the blood vessels, to the liver, and beyond. The surgical subspecialties focus on specific body regions, that is, cardiothoracic surgeons address problems of the heart, lungs, and other organs within the thorax (chest), whereas other specialties focus on certain body systems or patient populations, that is, vascular surgeons operate on arteries and veins and pediatric surgeons operate primarily on infants and children. No matter the subspecialty, surgeons are knowledgeable in critical care, and often care for their own critically ill patients in the ICU.
For most new medical students and nonmedical professionals, surgery remains somewhat of a mythical realm characterized by scalpels, blood, and constant action. This mystery may be partly why surgery-based television shows and movies remain so popular in society today. What most people do not see or understand is that surgery is, indeed, structured, organized, thoughtful, and meticulously planned. Even during times of apparent chaos, surgeons have a definitive plan of action to reestablish control, to treat complications, and to make a difference in the lives of their patients. This art requires a great deal of time and experience. Surgical residency aims to provide the broad foundation necessary for a successful career.
General surgery remains one of the few fields in medicine that brings together many disciplines in order to treat patients. As a surgeon, you will master several aspects of the medical field in order to be successful. You need to work up and evaluate a patient with the efficiency of a medical internist. Surgeons must order and analyze radiological investigations with the acuity of a radiologist. After making the final decision for surgery, you will prepare patients with their cardiac and pulmonary status in mind in order to assess the relative risk of ...