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Is 12 years of in-depth education really worth it to become a trauma surgeon? It seems like a huge amount of time for one to be in school for a specific job.

At school, I am most interested in gross anatomy, microbiology, and biology,
while my hobbies include athletics. A topic that I am passionate about is leadership and "organized chaos". medicine doctor biology surgeon trauma ICU chaos busy medical premed med

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Walt’s Answer

I am not a physician, so take my input with a grain of salt... However, my wife is a GI physician, and her perspective on the entire field of medicine (and especially specialized medicine) is that it is an incredibly rewarding field for those who pursue it for the right reasons.

If you are pursuing a career in surgery, you should be driven by a passion for resolving people's problems and, potentially, saving lives... but less interested in engaging with those people on a personal level. If you are pursuing a non-surgery path, you'll likely have more interaction with patients, so you need to be passionate about patient care. In both cases, your desire to improve the health of others (and, in the case of research tracks, your desire to advance the science in your field) should FAR outweigh a desire for great compensation and prestige.

It's undoubtedly true that physicians are well-compensated and well-respected. However, most physicians will quickly tell you that there are other respected career paths that will deliver great compensation in fewer years and with far lower investment in education.

TL;DR - Do some soul-searching and determine why you want to be a trauma surgeon... If the reasons are based upon the type of work and sense of fulfillment you'll get from doing the job, it's likely worth it. If it's cash and prestige, possibly not!
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Richard’s Answer

Yes! It is absolutely worth it. There are a lot of long hours studying in the library followed by long hours in the hospital, but it is a fulfilling career. There are so many opportunities after medical school... different specialties appeal to different individuals. Or you can follow a nonclinical route in research or even hospital administration.

You don't have to commit to trauma surgery at the very beginning of your training. During medical school you can change your mind and choose a different residency. Even after you have started a surgery residency, you can change your mind and choose another surgery subspecialty
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Rachel’s Answer

Trauma surgery is an incredibly challenging and rewarding field. If it is a career you are committed to, then go for it!

Just to give you an idea of the timeline.... you will have to complete college with a bachelor’s degree as well as all of the Pre-med requirements (1 year biology, 1 year inorganic chemistry, 1 year organic chemistry + labs, physics, calculus, and biochemistry). GPA should probably be 3.5 or better (preferably >3.8). You will also have to score well on the MCAT. Once accepted to medical school, as long as you pass your classes and perform reasonably well during your four years of medical training, you can apply for a general surgery 5 year residency. Following that, you will apply for a 2 year trauma surgery fellowship. This career path requires 15 years of school after high school.
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Theodore’s Answer

What I would say is that you should think about your passion and drive.

What is it that makes you want to be a trauma surgeon?

Find your WHY!

If you like the study of biology, microbiology and anatomy there are a lot of paths you can choose. I would suggest some path in healthcare still but there are many directions you can take beyond that. You will know more as you increase the amount of time you spend in each setting. For instance I really got a lot out of my experience in gross anatomy, I really liked microbiology and pathology but I also knew that I did not want to be stuck in a lab for my career. I need interaction with living, conscious people to find fulfillment.

There are a lot of ways you can help people while having a great understanding of each of these scientific specialties you find interest in.
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Matt’s Answer

I am not a physician, though I was previously a Paramedic at a level 1 trauma center and as such, worked closely with many trauma surgeons for several years.

The value that people assign to anything varies. A vacation, a car, or in your case the opportunity to serve as a Trauma Surgeon, may each be worth different time, effort or money to different people. We make these very personal assessments of value throughout our lives. Whether this career option is worth 12 years of undoubtedly intense education is an answer uniquely yours. That you are asking this question now says that you're making that assessment. Good for you.

Two observations. Few professions require the educational diligence and endurance of medical school, regardless of the kind of physician one becomes. That's pretty universally understood, right? Trauma surgeons in practice live a life that's uniquely sacrificial and demanding. Traumas occur around the clock and surgeons often find themselves committed to lengthy surgeries at inconvenient hours, sometimes coming in quickly from home while on-call. This also applies to these Physicians in their residency. Trauma doesn't book an appointment and schedule surgery.

Second observation, treating trauma is also a team effort involving providers of a multitude of disciplines including other Physicians, nurses, imaging specialists, social workers, therapists and prehospital providers like Paramedics. The Trauma Surgeon provides leadership to the whole team, making critical decisions and providing guidance to the team. The ability to work well with others, make swift, clinically-sound decisions and lead a team decisively is very important.

Those are but two observations. Deciding whether the role is "worth" the education requires more information and then a personal assessment that's uniquely yours. Arm yourself with as much information as possible because Trauma Surgeon is an atypically demanding role, though I'm sure the experience is rewarding in many ways. I suggest talking to people who have committed to this path already. Contact a medical school and ask to speak with some students at different stages of their journey, especially those who aspire to trauma surgery. Contact a teaching hospital that's a trauma center and ask to speak with a trauma surgeon. Perhaps a trauma surgery resident and an attending physician. Explain that you're weighing a career choice, have some smart questions prepared for them and I'll bet you'll find generous people glad to offer their insights.

Also remember that no matter the career, you can always shift gears mid-journey. Your time in college will also find you learning about yourself and often, a few undiscovered interests and aptitudes. Career paths are often quite fluid.

Matt recommends the following next steps:

Prepare a brief list of smart questions about the education and profession of a Trauma Surgeon. Avoid "yes or no" questions. Ask open-ended questions that give a person room to talk.
Contact a medical school and a teaching hospital with a trauma center. Explain your quest and ask if there's a way to speak to a student or two and a Trauma Surgeon. These are busy people so ask for just a few moments.
If you have the opportunity to speak with someone, ask questions clearly, be a great listener and take notes.
Get each person's email or mailing address and promptly send them a thank you note afterward.