male surgeon

How to become a surgeon

The three stages of training to become a surgeon
To become a surgeon, you must complete your medical degree and registration, undergo at least two years of internship and residency in a hospital and then complete at least five years of surgical training depending on specialty.

What is a surgeon?

Surgeons are medical doctors who have completed further training in a surgical specialty, qualifying them to conduct operations and other surgical procedures.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) is the only body in Australia which is eligible to grant Fellowship in nine surgical specialties. Whilst training courses and exams are conducted by RACS, the administration and management of the training programs is conducted by the responsible specialist societies such as the General Surgeons Australia, Australian Orthopaedic Association, and the Neurosurgical Society of Australasia.

How do I qualify as a surgeon?

1. Become a doctor

Qualifying as a medical doctor at the University of Sydney takes around eight years from high school. This includes a three-year undergraduate degree, a four-year Doctor of Medicine, and a further one-year internship in a hospital, at which point you may apply for registration through the Medical Board of Australia.

For more details on this process, see this explainer.

2. Complete residency

Upon finishing the intern year and gaining medical registration, doctors are required to complete a residency in order to apply for specialised vocational training programs, which all have a minimum residency requirement.

For surgery, the required amount of residency varies depending on the specialty or sub-specialty sought but will be at least one year. However, many people may choose to complete more than the minimum residency requirement while they work to be accepted into the training program of their choice or if they enjoy the residency. In practice, due to the competitive nature of surgical training entry, most residents will complete four-five years of residency before entering surgical training.

3. RACS SET Training Program

The fellowship of RACS (FRACS) training program is the only means through which a medical practitioner in Australia or New Zealand can become a specialist surgeon.

Applications for the training program are competitive and places are limited, so you may need to apply multiple times before gaining admission.

Completing the training program requires at least five years of full-time study, depending on your chosen specialty, in a range of accredited training positions in clinical settings. The main components of the curriculum are rotations in hospitals, short skills courses, research and assessment.

The specialties available and their average durations are:

Upon the completion of the RACS SET Training Program, including any relevant exams or assessments, you will be invited to apply for Fellowship and qualify for independent practice.

29 September 2023

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