What is a Transplant Surgeon?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 January 2020
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Transplant surgery is the treatment of diseases and conditions through the replacement by transplant of some part of the body. Transplant surgery may involve thoracic organs or abdominal organs, but also corneas, meniscus, tracheas, bone marrow, stem cells, and faces. A transplant surgeon is a medical doctor with a specialty in one or more transplant procedures. Certification or accreditation is required for specialists who perform transplants, but some transplant surgeons specialize particularly in transplants, while others do transplants as part of a broader practice.

Consider thoracic transplant surgery. In the UK, certification of a transplant surgeon, like any other specialist, or general practitioner, is undertaken by the General Medical Council (GMC). In the UK, a cardiothoracic surgeon would apply for a Certificate of Eligibility for Specialist Registration (CESR). Certification is achieved through examination or other tests of knowledge and skill, as well as experience, to meet the expected course of training and the required standards of practice.


Since transplant surgery is considered a specialty of generally surgery, and because a transplant surgeon is often certified in general surgery as well as transplant surgery, the American Board of Surgery is often the accrediting agency for cardiothoracic transplant surgeons in the United States. There is, however, an American Board of Thoracic Surgery as well. The path to become a transplant surgeon includes medical school, and a residency program. For joint accreditation in general and thoracic surgery, a four-year surgical residency is followed by a three-year thoracic surgery residency. Other requirements include the General Surgery Qualifying Examination (QE), followed by the General Surgery Certifying Examination (CE).

The American Society of Transplant Surgeons accredits fellowship programs for thoracic transplant surgery for surgeons who have successfully completed their residency requirements. The duration of this training is qualified by the number of each type of transplant performed during the program as primary surgeon. To qualify as a cardiac transplant surgeon, 20 procedures are required; to qualify as a lung transplant surgeon, 15 procedures are required; and to qualify as a heart/lung transplant surgeon, one must meet both the heart and lung criteria already mentioned as well as be primary surgeon for two heart/lung transplants.

By contrast, meniscal transplants — transplants of the meniscus — are not performed by transplant specialists but by orthopedic surgeons who specialize in arthroscopic surgery. The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery accredits orthopedic surgeons in the United States, and the General Medical Council accredits specialists in Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery as an approved sub-specialty in the UK.



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