Trauma Surgeon Training Programs, Degrees and Education Requirements

Jan 02, 2020

Trauma surgery is a medical specialty where operative and non-operative methods are used to treat patients who have suffered traumatic injuries. Find out how to become a surgeon and trauma surgeon education requirements.

Trauma Surgeon Career Information

Trauma surgeons deal with patients who have suffered injuries ranging from broken bones to critical life-threatening traumas. Trauma surgeons work under extreme pressure and have to be capable of making sound decisions quickly and often with limited information. The education and training pathway to become a trauma surgeon is a lengthy one and involves the completion of a degree, going to medical school and doing a residency and fellowship program.

Degree Level Medical degree
Licensing Pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE)
Experience General surgery residency program; trauma surgery fellowship
Key Skills Able to deal with extreme pressure; strong communication skills; quick thinker
Job Outlook (2018-2028)* 1% (for all surgeons)
Median Salary 2018* $255,110 (for all surgeons)

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Surgeon's Schooling - What Kind of Education Is Required to Be a Surgeon?

All aspiring surgeons need to complete a bachelor's degree to be accepted to medical school. Programs that allow students to take a range of science courses, especially in biology and chemistry, are the most ideal as these will prepare medical school hopefuls well for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Students wishing to really get a step ahead may wish to enroll at a college that offers pre-med tracks that include courses that cover the following topics:

  • Physiology
  • Organic chemistry
  • Cellular biology
  • Physics

Pre-med courses can also be taken online.

Medical School

Once a budding surgeon has successfully completed a bachelor's degree, they will need to apply to medical school. An important part of the application process for medical school is the Medical Colleges Admissions Test (MCAT). The MCAT assesses a candidate's critical thinking and writing skills within a biological and physical sciences context.

The first two years of medical school concentrates on building up lab experience and completing coursework in a range of scientific topics including anatomy and physiology. The final two years of medical school will require students to undertake clinical rotations so that they can obtain practical experience in a variety of specialties including orthopedics and emergency medicine. During these last two years, students may also undertake an internship in trauma medicine, or something similar, to accrue further experience and improve their residency application prospects.

When candidates have completed medical school, they become eligible to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). The USMLE consists of seven sections of 40 questions each for a total of 280 questions.

Residency Programs

Trauma surgery residency programs aren't particularly common. Therefore, it's typical for aspiring trauma surgeons to complete their residency requirements in a general surgery program. Such programs are typically three to seven years in length and ground students in a range of surgical specialties (looking for one that includes trauma surgery is wise) and research. Residents are required to perform surgical services for real patients at local hospitals. The surgical specialties covered in a residency program might typically include emergency medicine, vascular surgery and surgical oncology.

Trauma Surgery Fellowship

Once a residency program has been completed, a prospective trauma surgeon will normally take on a fellowship in trauma surgery or surgical critical care, which can last 1-2 years. Such fellowships should be accredited by the Residency Review Committee of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

Trauma surgery fellowships are very competitive and provide surgeons with the clinical and administrative skills to manage all aspects of care for the most critically injured patients. Fellows are typically subjected to high-level training in dealing with the most severe chest, neck, and abdomen injuries and the programs will often include clinical and research components.

Surgical critical care fellowships require fellows to undertake rotations in organ transplantation, burn care, pediatrics and, of course, trauma. These rotations will include direct contact with patients in surgical wards and in intensive care.

Continuing Education Information

Trauma surgeons, as with all licensed physicians, are required to continue educating themselves about patient care and keep up-to-date with the latest medical advancements in their field. The American Board of Surgery requires surgeons to complete 150 credits of Category 1 Continuing Medical Education (CME) over a period of five years. Category 1 CME activities include formal accredited educational experiences such as seminars, skills courses and conferences. At least 50 of the 150 credits must consist of self-assessment which is essentially a question and answer activity that assesses a surgeon's understanding of the CME program material.

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