What is a General Surgeon?

Learn More abut the role of General Surgeons by watching this informative video produced by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

general surgeon is a physician who has been educated and trained in the diagnosis and preoperative, operative, and postoperative management of patient care. Surgery requires knowledge of anatomy, emergency and intensive care, immunology, metabolism, nutrition, pathology, physiology, shock and resuscitation, and wound healing.
The general surgeon is trained to provide surgical care for the whole patient. This includes making a diagnosis; preoperative, operative and postoperative management of the patient; and the surgical treatment of the:

  • alimentary tract;
  • abdomen and its contents, including the pelvis;
  • breast, skin and soft tissue; and
  • endocrine system.

It includes head and neck surgery, pediatric surgery, surgical critical care, surgical oncology, trauma and burns, transplants and vascular surgery.

The exact profile of a general surgeon’s practice may vary depending on whether the practice is in an academic centre, an urban community or a more rural centre. In rural practice, some surgeons may do gynecologic, urologic, orthopedic and ENT surgeries. In some academic centres, a general surgeon might limit his/her practice to one subspecialty.


General surgery tends to be a varied specialty, where the activities of a general surgeon involve time in the operating room, office, emergency department and the intensive care unit. General surgical practice requires expertise in communication and collaboration, teaching and research, health care management and continuing professional development.

After completing medical school, to become a general surgeon requires an additional 5 years of training in a Royal College-approved program. Some schools offer a 6-year program, while others offer an optional PGY6 year. The resident must acquire a thorough knowledge of the theoretical basis of general surgery, including its foundations in the basic medical sciences and research. Training should incorporate the principle of graded increasing responsibility. This must include at least 36 months of general surgery rotations, of which at least one year must be spent as a senior or chief resident.