Unsupported Browser
The American College of Surgeons website is not compatible with Internet Explorer 11, IE 11. For the best experience please update your browser.
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
Employed Surgeon

Considerations for a Career in Military Surgery

A career as a military surgeon is a rewarding and challenging pathway that combines unique medical expertise and opportunity with service to one's country. In this article, Capt. (Ret.) Richard Sharpe, MD, FACS, MC, USN, and Capt. (Ret.) Gordon Wisbach, MD, MBA, FACS, MC, USN, outline the opportunities and challenges of a surgical career in the military. Current military surgeons share their experiences and the authors provide considerations for preparing for the transition to a civilian surgical career.

Captain Wisbach is a general surgeon who specializes in minimally invasive metabolic/bariatric and robotic surgery at the Navy Medicine Readiness & Training Command San Diego (NMRTC-SD), where he was the founding director of the ACS-accredited Surgical Simulation/Education fellowship and the inaugural telesurgical director of the Virtual Medical Operations Center. Captain Sharpe is a general surgeon specializing in trauma and surgical critical care who is currently the chief of surgery at St. Luke’s Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. Learn more about the authors.


Pursuing a career as a military surgeon can be a fulfilling and unique path that combines medical expertise with a commitment to serving one's country. The following are some considerations for why someone might choose to pursue a career as a military surgeon.

Service and Family Tradition

Military surgeons have the opportunity to serve their country by providing medical care to military personnel, veterans, and civilians in conflict zones or disaster-stricken areas. This sense of duty and service to country that provides freedom and safety as well as can be a powerful motivator.

Global Experience and Adventure

Military surgeons may have the opportunity to work in various locations around the world, gaining exposure to different cultures and healthcare systems. This international experience can broaden perspectives and contribute to personal development. The military offers a physician a broad range of opportunities, including duty stations overseas, deployments, and shipboard experiences.

  • Joshua Corsa, MD, FACS, US Army (Major, Reserve): “I was 17 years old when I first raised my hand and enlisted in the US Army. Restless and rudderless, joining the Army as a medic seemed a perfect fit. And a perfect fit it has been. In my time in the Army, I have served as medic, battalion surgeon, brigade surgeon, and FST (Forward Surgical Team) general surgeon. My practice environments have been just as varied. I have operated in fully resourced modern trauma centers, and I have operated out of a rucksack in remote villages in Afghanistan where the next closest surgical care was hours away. And I’ve enjoyed every exhausting and terrifying minute of it.”
  • Jessie Paull, MD, US Navy (Lieutenant Commander, Active) shares of her first humanitarian mission to Ecuador and Peru: “When in port, our days were filled with case after case of pathology in extremes I had never experienced back home. Colon-filled hernias that had been left to enlarge for decades, gallbladders scarred from years of unrelenting biliary colic, and pathologic phimosis in children that was so advanced they required manual decompression to evacuate. The cases were striking, challenging, and gratifying.”

Leadership Opportunities and Team Collaboration

Military surgeons often take on leadership roles within medical units, which could involve leading a team of medical professionals in challenging conditions, fostering teamwork, and making critical decisions under pressure. The unique challenges of leadership and providing patient care in austere settings promote development of invaluable skills. Military healthcare involves close collaboration with various professionals, including nurses, medics, and other healthcare providers. This teamwork fosters a sense of camaraderie and shared mission, which can be rewarding for individuals who thrive in collaborative environments.

  • Jason Bingham, MD, FACS, US Army (Major, Active): “Military surgeons often find themselves in positions of leadership very early in their careers compared to their civilian counterparts, often with mixed results. This phenomenon has certainly held true in my experience. Although relatively junior in my career, I have been fortunate to have numerous (often involuntary) opportunities for personal and professional growth in the US Army.”
  • Joshua Corsa, MD, FACS, US Army (Major, Reserve): “While the medicine has been enjoyable, the most rewarding aspect of my military career has been the mentorship, as both a mentor and a mentee. Every month I have the privilege to work alongside some of the most talented and selfless surgeons in the country. More importantly, I have been awash in a boundless depth of enlisted talent that is competent and eager to learn. The strength of an Army is in all its soldiers, not just its officers. By that metric the US Army’s Medical Corps is stronger than ever.”

Clinical Experience and Training

Military surgeons often encounter a wide range of medical cases, including injuries related to combat, trauma, and emergency situations. This case diversity can provide a unique and challenging professional experience, allowing surgeons to develop a broad skill set. In addition, there are often opportunities provided for training in specialized areas such as trauma surgery or operative surgery in field environments. This can contribute to personal and professional growth as well as enhance one's overall medical skills.

  • Jacob Glaser, MD, FACS, US Navy (Commander, Reserve): “I had deployed as a flight surgeon and spent some time on a hospital ship prior to completing training. I deployed as the chief of trauma for the casualty receiving hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan—roughly equivalent in acuity to any level 1 trauma center but with far fewer resources and specialty care. Volumes were lower than in the early phases of the war, but, certainly, we stayed plenty busy with highly injured casualties. For me, this was the culmination of all that I had learned about combat casualty care across my training and was a testament to my fellowship training as well. All those who had trained me in the military coupled with the high acuity and volume [as well as the] systematic team approach to trauma I learned from Shock Trauma, I felt prepared me well for that role.”

Financial Incentives and Career Stability

Military surgeons may receive competitive salaries and benefits as part of their service commitment. Additionally, the military may provide financial assistance for medical education, which can help alleviate the high costs associated with medical training. Military healthcare positions often come with job security and stable career paths. Military surgeons can have a long and fulfilling career with the opportunity for promotions and advancement.    

Research and Academic Opportunities

Military medical professionals often have the chance to engage in research projects related to battlefield medicine, trauma care, and other specialized areas. This research can contribute to advancements in medical knowledge and technology. Many academic institutions and organizations welcome and support military surgeons to participate as leaders.  This support can lead to unique and impactful scholarly work and professional development.


A career as a military surgeon can be both rewarding and challenging. The following are some of the challenges associated with this profession.

Deployment and Mobility

Military surgeons may be required to deploy to different locations, including combat zones or areas affected by natural disasters. This can result in long periods of separation from family and a constantly changing work environment. Communication with family is usually possible during deployments and it is usually limited in frequency and duration. In addition, military families may relocate every few years to different duty stations in the continental United States and overseas. 

Limited Resources and Clinical Practice

In some military settings—especially in field hospitals or during deployments—resources may be limited. Surgeons may have to work with constrained medical supplies, equipment, and personnel, requiring adaptability and resourcefulness. The experience of the military physician is significantly affected by the size of the military treatment facility (MTF) where the physician is stationed. When practicing at large MTFs, physicians have adequate case volume and range of complexity. In contrast, small MTFs tend to offer a low-case volume and limited range of case complexity.

  • Jessie Paull, MD, US Navy (Lieutenant Commander, Active): “As my primary role as [the] ship’s surgeon, my command is solely concerned with my care of the ship’s crew, regardless of how few low-acuity patients I see. Consequently, arranging civilian partnerships and off-duty employment opportunities, as indispensable as they are for skill preservation, has not been easy.”

Ethical Dilemmas and Physical Demands

Military surgeons may face ethical dilemmas unique to their profession, such as treating enemy combatants or dealing with situations where resources are scarce, and decisions have to be made about prioritizing patients. Performing surgeries, especially in challenging conditions, can be physically demanding. Military surgeons need to be in good physical condition to handle the demands of their work, particularly in the field.

Limited Specialization and Civilian Career Transition

Depending on the military branch and assignment, military surgeons may have limited opportunities for specialization. This can be a challenge for surgeons who wish to focus on a specific area of surgery. Transitioning from a military career to civilian life can be challenging for some military surgeons. The skills and experiences gained in a military setting may not always directly translate to the civilian medical field, and adapting to a different work environment can be a significant adjustment.

Despite these challenges, many military surgeons find the experience to be highly rewarding, contributing to the well-being of service members and gaining unique skills and perspectives that can be valuable in various medical settings in a civilian career.

Preparation for a Civilian Career

A military surgical career can provide a solid foundation for transitioning into a civilian career in various ways. Here are some aspects of a military surgical career that can contribute to a successful transition.

Clinical Skills and Expertise

Military surgeons often receive extensive training in a variety of surgical procedures. This diverse experience can enhance your clinical skills and make you proficient in handling a wide range of cases. Serving in the military, especially during wartime, can enhance the career of a physician. Treating patients injured in combat and functioning in resource-limited environments are challenges unique to the military sector. Additionally, leadership roles in the military offer unique opportunities to enhance leadership skills that will benefit the physician after military retirement. This expertise is highly transferable to civilian medical settings and can include trauma surgery as well as other civilian-relevant specializations including minimally invasive, metabolic/bariatric, and robotic surgery.

  • Joshua Corsa, MD, FACS, US Army (Major, Reserve): “The chance to practice medicine in such austere and challenging environments has helped me develop as a surgeon and as a person. As a surgeon, I have become more flexible and adaptable, and as a person I have grown calmer and more composed under duress.”

Resource Management

Military medical professionals often operate in resource-limited environments. This experience can hone your ability to efficiently use resources, which is a valuable skill in civilian healthcare settings that may also face resource constraints. 

Technology and Innovation

Military medical facilities are often at the forefront of adopting new technologies and techniques. Exposure to cutting-edge medical advancements can keep you updated on the latest developments, making you competitive in civilian healthcare environments. Technology enables the development and refinement of advanced surgical techniques, such as minimally invasive procedures, robotic surgery, and computer-assisted surgery. These techniques often result in quicker recovery times, reduced scarring, and improved patient outcomes.

Telemedicine allows military surgeons to consult with specialists remotely, share medical images, and receive guidance in real time. This is particularly important in deployed or remote settings where access to specialized medical expertise may be limited. Simulation and training—including virtual/augmented reality and task-trainer technologies—allow military surgeons to practice and enhance their skills in a risk-free environment. This is especially valuable for training in complex and high-stakes procedures.

 Advancements in prosthetics and rehabilitation contribute to improved outcomes for soldiers who have undergone amputations. Innovations in rehabilitation, such as robotic-assisted devices and exoskeletons, aid in the recovery and mobility of injured military personnel.  Biomedical research and development in the biomedical field lead to the discovery of new drugs, materials, and techniques that can be applied to improve surgical procedures, wound healing, and patient recovery.

International Medicine and Global Perspective

Physicians in the military have the unique opportunity to learn how to function in austere settings, leading medical teams to provide relief following natural disasters and within war-stricken and underserved areas. These invaluable skills of leadership, cultural awareness, and resourcefulness prove essential in global medical efforts. Military surgeons may have the opportunity to work in different regions or countries, gaining a global perspective on healthcare. This international experience can be an asset in a globalized healthcare system.

  • Jessie Paull, MD, US Navy (Lieutenant Commander, Active): “My second humanitarian mission was…to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, as a participant in a Global Health Engagement for Joint Trauma System Development. Our team included active-duty Air Force surgeons, Ranger medics, and Army reservists. The mission was to lay the groundwork for a more streamlined and uniform EMS system to bring in casualties from the nearby mountainous regions to more centrally located hospitals. This experience of sharing military philosophies, medical practices, and cultural differences is truly one I would have otherwise never been able to have without my Navy career.”

Academic and Networking Opportunities

Surgeons in uniform are generally highly valued by academic and surgical organizations. Committee, leadership, speaker, and research opportunities are made available with less competitive individual credentials. This exposure and experience can build a role in a community of interest. Many military healthcare professionals have access to educational benefits, including opportunities for advanced degrees. Obtaining additional qualifications during your military career can enhance your credentials for civilian positions. Military service provides opportunities to build a strong professional network, which can be beneficial when transitioning to civilian practice. Connections made during your military career, both within and outside the medical field, can open doors to opportunities in the civilian sector.

Teamwork and Leadership

Military environments emphasize teamwork and leadership skills. As a military surgeon, you may have experience leading medical teams in high-pressure situations. This ability to work effectively in a team and lead others can be valuable in civilian healthcare settings. Military surgeons often face challenging and unpredictable situations, requiring adaptability and resilience. These qualities are beneficial in civilian healthcare where unexpected events and emergencies can occur. 

When transitioning to a civilian career, tailoring your resume and highlighting the relevant skills and experiences gained during your military surgical career are essential. Additionally, networking with civilian professionals, attending industry conferences, and participating in civilian medical societies can help you establish connections and learn about opportunities in the civilian healthcare sector.

About the Authors

Capt. (Ret.) Richard Sharpe, MD, FACS, MC, USN, is a general surgeon specializing in trauma and surgical critical care who is currently the chief of surgery at St. Luke’s Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. He joined the military in 1987 when he entered the Uniformed Services University School of Medicine and graduated in 1991. After earning his medical degree, he began his general surgery residency at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. After the first year of residency, he attended the Naval Undersea Medical Institute to become an undersea Medical Officer and was stationed in Guam for 3 years. After this duty station, Dr. Sharpe returned and finished his general surgery residency. Upon completion of residency, he was the general surgeon at the Naval Hospital in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After this 1-year duty station, he performed a 2-year trauma surgery and surgical critical care fellowship at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He was then stationed at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, where he spent the rest of his career. At that time, the conflict in the Middle East began and the last 13 years of his military career included numerous deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. During this time, he also deployed several times to Djibouti, Africa, for an antipiracy mission. In January 2010, he was on the hospital ship Comfort following the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Following his 26-year career in the Navy, Dr. Sharpe joined the St. Luke’s University Health Network where he continues his career as a general surgeon as well as the founder and director of the St. Luke’s International Medical Program.

Capt. (Ret.) Gordon Wisbach, MD, MBA, FACS, MC, USN, is a general surgeon who specializes in minimally invasive metabolic/bariatric and robotic surgery at the Navy Medicine Readiness & Training Command San Diego (NMRTC-SD), where he was founding director of the ACS-accredited Surgical Simulation/Education fellowship and the inaugural telesurgical director of the Virtual Medical Operations Center. Dr. Wisbach was awarded his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and completed his residency training at NMRTC-SD. Dr. Wisbach is fellowship-trained in advanced laparoscopic/bariatric surgery at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. He deployed eight times while active duty on afloat and land-based platforms in support of expeditionary, humanitarian, and combat missions. Dr. Wisbach holds the title of professor of surgery at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and earned his MBA from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Capt. (Ret.) Wisbach is a past-president of the Excelsior Surgical Society (ESS), the military chapter of the ACS, and serves as the inaugural Governor representing the ESS on the ACS Board of Governors. He has active research interests in surgical education using simulation and advancing surgical telementoring on a trajectory towards telesurgery.


The views expressed in this article reflect the experiences and opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the American College of Surgeons, US Departments of the Navy, Army, and Air Force, Department of Defense, or the United States Government. This work was not funded by the government of the United States.