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Become a member and receive career-enhancing benefits

Our top priority is providing value to members. Your Member Services team is here to ensure you maximize your ACS member benefits, participate in College activities, and engage with your ACS colleagues. It's all here.

Become a Member
Become a member and receive career-enhancing benefits

Our top priority is providing value to members. Your Member Services team is here to ensure you maximize your ACS member benefits, participate in College activities, and engage with your ACS colleagues. It's all here.

Membership Benefits
Education Programs

So You Want to Be a Surgeon

So You Want to Be a Surgeon

For many years, Kaj Johansen, MD, FACS, and David Heimbach, MD, FACS, of the Department of Surgery at the University of Washington, Seattle, provided the "little red book" as a resource to medical students who were applying for residency programs in general surgery. The book, "So you want to be a surgeon," proved to be very popular and a great help to students who wanted to select programs to which they could apply. With Drs. Johansen and Heimbach's permission, the American College of Surgeons created an online version of the book that contains expanded content, including information about all the surgical specialties that admit PGY 1 residents. We are pleased to present the "little red book" to medical students and their advisors in an electronic format for ready access. Moreover, this version, "So You Want to Be A Surgeon: An Online Guide to Selecting and Matching with the Best Surgery Residency" is updated on a continuous basis. We welcome your comments and suggestions. Good hunting!



Your Residency Search

To the Medical Student:

This section of the American College of Surgeons website has been developed to help you decide whether you are physically, intellectually, and emotionally suited to be a happy and successful surgeon. If that is the case, the information presented here about the surgical specialties along with a searchable database will help you find optimal graduate medical education opportunities. Much of the information presented here is available elsewhere; however, this online guide was assembled to make your search easier.

The medical student interested in a career in surgery should be familiar with the qualities and demands required of a successful, satisfied surgeon. These qualities and demands are covered in Section I. For those still stimulated by the challenge of surgery after thoughtful reading of Section I, there are suggested questions that you should ask of yourself, and attempt to answer, in order to select residency programs suited to your needs. These residency programs are presented in Section II with a chronology of the application and interview processes to make the processes as efficient as possible. In Section III you will find a description of the surgical specialties. Links are provided to important information about the specialties and the programs, and the answers to questions about programs you consider.


Section I: Surgical Traits

Reflect on your clinical experiences and how you felt while caring for patients. Do you:

  • Appreciate working as a member of a team?
  • Enjoy watching your patients improve daily after major injuries or surgical procedures?
  • Embrace responsibility and the opportunity to make a positive impact?
  • Excel at problem solving and have the ability to “think on your feet”?
  • Feel intrigued by the challenge of managing multiple physiological and psychological problems in your critically ill surgical patients
  • Share the excitement of a surgical team anticipating a "great case"?
  • Enjoy the challenges of acquiring new technical skills and understanding new technologies?

If the answer to some of these questions is "Yes!", a surgical career may be right for you.

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Section II: How to Find a Surgery Residency

In evaluating programs, you will find helpful information in the "Program Requirements" section for each specialty, posted on the website of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). The ACGME is the home of the Residency Review Committees (RRCs) for each specialty; the RRCs set the rules by which programs must abide and serve to maintain quality in every accredited program. You will find additional links to this site as we get into specific specialties and programs. In addition, the section for medical students on this website has good basic information on selection of programs and the application and interview processes.

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Section III: Surgical Specialties

To assist you in finding the best possible match for your surgery residency, information on the various surgical specialties is provided. These surgical specialty descriptions were developed from definitions set forth by the American Board of Medical Specialties, the nationally recognized authority on the topic.

In reading through the training requirements for each specialty, we encourage you to remember this: that a surgery residency is not a surgical career. Once your residency is finished and you begin surgical practice, you will have a larger measure of control over your schedule and your life. Members of the American College of Surgeons Committee on Young Surgeons want you to remember that surgeons have active family and personal lives too. In addition, some have submitted their own personal descriptions of their respective surgical specialties in which they explain the advantages and benefits of their chosen specialty.

For further information on the Surgery Residency Years: Lifestyle Considerations, see the Online Guide to Choosing a Surgical Residency, developed by the Committee on Medical Student Education.

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