Becoming a Trauma Surgeon: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a trauma surgeon? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a trauma surgeon is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Trauma Surgeon

Trauma surgeons perform emergency surgery on patients suffering from acute illnesses or injuries. These surgeons are licensed physicians and usually work in hospital emergency rooms. Trauma surgeons can earn high salaries, but often work long, erratic work schedules. Read on for more information about the benefits and drawbacks of a career as a trauma surgeon.

Pros of a Career as a Trauma Surgeon
Potential for high pay; in May 2014, surgeons made an average of $240,440 annually*
Potentially high demand for these surgeons; the number of medical students interested in a surgical career is declining**
Challenging work environment; surgeons must combine specialized knowledge with a broad set of skills***

Cons of a Career as a Trauma Surgeon
Surgeons often work longer hours than doctors in other medical fields***
Extensive education required; surgeons usually must complete at least six years of training*
Trauma surgeons work long, erratic work hours, often at night****

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Article in American Journal of Surgery, 2010; ***Stanford Report, Stanford University; ****The Journal of Lancaster General Hospital.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

The main job of a trauma surgeon is to perform operations on patients who have sustained critical injuries. However, trauma surgeons might also perform diagnostic tests and prescribe pre- and post-operative antibiotics or other medications. Surgeons need to work with a wide variety of tools, such as surgical clamps, dermatomes, surgical lasers and medical software programs.

Surgeries performed by a trauma surgeon are usually conducted under severe time constraints. In addition, a substantial portion of a trauma surgeon's work is done at night, when many traumatic injuries occur.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment opportunities for all physicians and surgeons would grow 18% during the 2012-2022 decade. However, the demand for trauma surgeons may be even greater, because hospital trauma units are reporting a lack of on-call surgeons.

In May 2014, the BLS reported that surgeons made an average of $240,440 annually. The bottom 10th percentile of surgeons made about $130,710 per year. The five top paying states for surgeons are Wyoming, West Virginia, North Dakota, South Dakota and Oregon.

Career Requirements

Trauma surgeons must graduate from an accredited medical school and pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) to become licensed. Additionally, these surgeons usually completed a 3-8 year residency program in general surgery that introduces them to a variety of surgical specialties, including critical care surgery.

Useful Skills

Trauma surgeons need to perform competently under significant time constraints and deal with psychological pressures, including a lack of sleep, when performing their jobs. Surgeons rely on a number of hard and soft skills to perform their jobs, including:

  • Having flexible hand movements
  • Applying deductive and inductive reasoning skills to real-world situations
  • Effectively communicating with patients, staff and family members
  • Focusing on a single task over a long period of time
  • Empathizing with patients experiencing pain

Job Postings from Real Employers

Trauma surgeons can work in a variety of emergency room settings, from Level I, university-affiliated trauma centers to Level II centers in regional hospitals. Many jobs require that candidates have completed fellowships or be board certified. A November 2012 search conducted on the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma's job board revealed that:

  • A hospital in New York, NY, sought an experienced trauma surgeon to develop and guide its trauma center to Level II status. The ideal candidate would have completed a fellowship in trauma or critical care and be certified in critical care surgery.
  • A university hospital in Philadelphia, PA, sought a board-certified trauma surgeon to staff its Level I trauma center. The successful candidate would be responsible for teaching residents and medical students in addition to fulfilling his or her conventional surgical duties. Research opportunities would also be available to any hired employee.
  • A hospital in Oak Lawn, IL, sought a trauma surgeon who was at least board eligible to staff its Level I trauma center. This surgeon's responsibilities would include providing critical care and teaching residents and surgery fellows.

How to Stand Out

Trauma surgeons can distinguish themselves by becoming certified in critical care surgery by the American Board of Surgery (ABS). To earn this certification, surgeons must be certified in general surgery by the ABS, possess a current medical license, have completed a program in critical care surgery and submit a report of care provided during that program, be currently practicing critical care surgery and pass an exam. Certification lasts for three years, and is renewed by the holder submitting a form detailing their current surgical work and licensure status.

Other Careers to Consider

Dentist

Dentists work to maintain a patient's oral hygiene. Their responsibilities include cleaning teeth, providing clinical consultations and administering anesthetics. Dentists typically graduate from an accredited dental program and obtain state licensure. In May 2011, according to the BLS, the mean annual wage of dentists nationwide was about $162,000.

Anesthesiologist

Anesthesiologists administer pain-eliminating drugs and anesthetics to patients before surgery or other medical procedures. These physicians have similar educational and licensing credentials as surgeons. In 2011, the mean annual wage for anesthesiologists nationwide was about $235,000.

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