American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

Surgical Career Lifestyle Issues

Life is about making choices. The career path you choose requires evaluation of both your professional and personal goals. Any career impacts personal lifestyle to some extent or another. In surgery, the training is rigorous and the lifestyle that accompanies a busy surgical practice is taxing, but surgery is also one of the most rewarding fields of medicine.

After training, the average general surgeon works 50-60 hours per week (not including time available for call). Depending on the practice situation chosen, you can be on call as much as all the time (if in private solo practice) to once a week (if in a large group practice). Data are not currently available on the marital status of male surgeons, however, more than 60% of women surgeons are married and 40% of women surgeons have children. Most women surgeons are married to other professionals (doctors, lawyers, for example). The number of hours spent at work (in the hospital or office) decreases the number of hours available for other pursuits including chores and leisure time activities. Most surgeons are able to hire out activities (such as house cleaning or yard work) they do not have time to pursue. Most women surgeons have in-home child care for their children.

Your responsibilities as a surgeon depend a lot on the type of practice you choose. Each practice type has advantages and disadvantages. For instance, a full-time Veterans Administration job will usually result in a shorter workweek and a shorter paycheck. The advantages of working for the VA include the ability to have protected time for research. Many high ranking academic surgeons started their careers in the VA. A university academic practice usually demands a large amount of weekly hours because of the high level of academic productivity. However, depending on the arrangement you have with the university, you may not have any protected time to do research and may end up doing that on your free time. Private solo practice usually requires long hours to both to get your practice up to the level you want it (availability) and to keep it there. The advantage is that you have a measure of control of how much you work. A group practice may result in fewer hours than a solo private practice and usually less time spent on call. However, because surgeons are hierarchical beings, the lowest-ranking person is often expected to pay their dues, which can translate into more call early on. Large HMOs are similar to VAs in their shorter hours and paychecks. Although many new surgeons don't achieve it on the first try, it is possibly to find or create a practice that is conducive to the lifestyle you want to lead. But remember, life is about making choices.

Another topic of strong interest for recent graduates of medical school is figuring out how to repay the loans and settle the financial debts from medical school. This is another lifestyle issue to consider when contemplating life during the postgraduate years. The Association of American Medical Colleges is a good resource for information on this topic.