How do I Become a Transplant Surgeon?

D. Jeffress
D. Jeffress
A scalpel.
A scalpel.

Transplant surgery involves replacing a damaged organ, such as a kidney, lung, or heart, with a donor organ in order to save the life of a patient. Procedures are usually very complex and require the expertise and precision of a highly-trained transplant surgeon. A person who wants to become a transplant surgeon must complete four years of medical school, five years of a general surgical residency, and up to three years of a specialty fellowship program. After finishing training and passing national licensing exams, a professional can become a transplant surgeon at a hospital, surgical center, or private specialty practice.

Some patients require heart transplants.
Some patients require heart transplants.

The educational path to become a transplant surgeon usually begins at a four-year university or college. Hopeful surgeons usually major in biology or a health science and focus on premedical studies. As an undergraduate, a student typically participates in classroom lectures and laboratory courses to gain a basic understanding of molecular biology, biochemistry, anatomy, and physiology. A student can take a medical college admissions test in the second half of a bachelor's degree program and begin applying to accredited medical schools.

Med school graduates must complete a residency training program.
Med school graduates must complete a residency training program.

Once a person is able to enroll in a medical school program, he or she can meet with professors and advisers to determine which classes will provide the best preparation to become a transplant surgeon. The first two years of medical school are usually spent in lecture courses that cover a broad range of medical topics. The last two years typically involve a combination of lectures, laboratory work, and rotating internships at a local hospital. A student who completes all medical school requirements is awarded a doctor of medicine degree and allowed to pursue residency positions.

Transplant surgeons spend several years learning from others in a residency.
Transplant surgeons spend several years learning from others in a residency.

Most prospective transplant surgeons join five-year general surgery residencies. New doctors observe experienced surgeons in their work and continue to conduct independent research. As a resident becomes more familiar with hospital policies and surgical procedures in general, he or she may be allowed to participate in fairly routine operations. As a surgeon gains experience, he or she is allowed to perform more detailed procedures. Near the end of residency training, a surgeon can take a licensing exam administered by a national governing board to earn the credentials necessary to work independently.

Most prospective transplant surgeons join five-year general surgery residencies.
Most prospective transplant surgeons join five-year general surgery residencies.

In most countries, a person who wants to become a transplant surgeon is required to join a specialty fellowship after completing his or her residency. Fellowship training involves actively assisting transplant surgeons on delicate procedures to gain vital firsthand experience. A new surgeon who performs exceptionally well during a two- to three-year fellowship can take an additional exam to become a board certified transplant specialist.

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    • A scalpel.
      A scalpel.
    • Some patients require heart transplants.
      Some patients require heart transplants.
    • Med school graduates must complete a residency training program.
      Med school graduates must complete a residency training program.
    • Transplant surgeons spend several years learning from others in a residency.
      Transplant surgeons spend several years learning from others in a residency.
    • Most prospective transplant surgeons join five-year general surgery residencies.
      Most prospective transplant surgeons join five-year general surgery residencies.