What is a House Surgeon?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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The term “house surgeon” is used in several different ways around the world. In one sense, it is a surgeon who remains on call at a facility, available at any time for procedures where surgery is required. In another, it refers to a doctor in the residency phase of medical training, performing surgical procedures under varying degrees of supervision. The shift in meaning between different countries is a reflection of different approaches to medical education, and if there is confusion about a house surgeon's role, people can ask for clarification.

In medical training in places like the United Kingdom, there was a historic split between medicine and surgery, with these two disciplines being viewed differently. People pursuing training in medical specialties went into residency as house doctors, while surgical residents were considered house surgeons. This split is less stark than it once was, but the tradition of differentiating between medical and surgical residents still exists in some parts of the UK, as well as in former colonies where medical education is heavily influenced by the UK tradition.

The house surgeon is a resident who has successfully attended medical school and is provided with opportunities for training and clinical practice. In some facilities, this term may be reserved for senior residents, people accountable directly to the attending who supervise junior residents and interns. The senior house surgeon has an opportunity to perform procedures solo and has much more autonomy when it comes to making decisions about patient case.


When this term is not being used in reference to medical residents, it involves the house staff at a hospital, the people available for immediate medical care needs. Some medical emergencies have a surgical component, and a house surgeon needs to be called in to handle immediate surgical repairs and other issues. These members of the staff may stay at the hospital while on call or agree to remain in the area and come in when summoned by phone. The better staffed a hospital is, the more likely a positive patient outcome, and people usually seek out facilities with good emergency staffs.

Whether an independently practicing surgeon or a medical resident, the house surgeon needs to be able to assess the needs of patients, sometimes very rapidly, while working with a medical team including other doctors, nurses, and personnel like radiology technicians. Some surgical specialties are more likely to result in emergency calls than others; a plastic surgeon focusing on elective procedures, for example, is unlikely to be roused from bed to care for an accident victim.



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