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Do Surgeons Work Every Day?

There is no one size fits all work schedule for any medical practitioner. Ideally, most workers in the industry work 8-10 hours a day. However, it is not unheard of to come across doctors and surgeons whose working hours exceed these norms. We’ve all seen those shows that focus on the lives of physicians. And it is no secret that they follow extremely hectic work schedules.

So what exactly is a surgeon’s work schedule like? How are their shifts determined? To understand what the hours are like, first, it is crucial to understand what the job of a surgeon entails.

The job description

Surgeons are medical practitioners whose job is to evaluate and perform complex surgical procedures. These medical practices can include plastic surgery, as well as emergency care operations such as heart surgery. Just like many other physicians, surgeons will select an area of specialty to focus on. Picking a specialty allows them to excel in their chosen field of study which then allows them to become experts in dealing with particular health concerns.

Some of the most common surgical specialties are as follows:

General surgery – surgeons who take on general practice focus on procedures that relate to general parts of the body. Some of the more common treatments include hernias, appendicitis, and intestinal concerns.

Critical surgery – also commonly known as trauma surgeons are the medical practitioners who are asked to treat emergency situations. These critical emergency scenarios could include injuries from car crashes, burn treatment, and injuries that are a result of trauma.

Orthopedic surgery – medical professionals who are in charge of treating health conditions that concern bones, joints, and the muscular system are referred to as orthopedic surgeons. Such professionals deal with the removal of tumors, correction of muscle or bone deformities, as well as the treatment of any broken bones in the body. The majority of orthopedic surgeons focus on oncology, sports medicine, as well as hand and foot treatment.

Neurosurgery – operations and surgical treatment that involves the nervous system and the brain are under the jurisdiction of neurosurgeons. These physicians can do both scheduled and emergency surgical operations.

Thoracic surgery – treatments for cardiac dysrhythmias, along with issues concerning the respiratory system are dealt with by thoracic surgeons. Basically, any condition related to the heart, chest, lung, and esophagus is also within their area of expertise.

Pediatric surgery – similar to general surgery practice, however instead of dealing with adults, they are in charge of pediatric treatment. This means, they are trained to perform medical procedures on children and of course, young adults typically this will range from newborns to teens.

A typical work schedule

Depending on where a surgeon works, he or she is given a set number of hours by the private clinic or hospital. Aside from the set working hours, surgeons are expected to complete their on-call hours – this pertains to a specific schedule wherein a physician should be able to work remotely. Simply put, as long as surgeons are available for online or phone consultations, they need not be physically present in facilities during their on-call hours.

To be clear, these set number of working hours can vary depending on where a surgeon works and what their area of specialty is. For instance, a surgical physician working in a private institute is more than likely to have longer or more frequent on-call hours on their worksheet. On the other hand, surgeons employed by larger facilities and hospitals tend to have less on their plate. The reason is mainly due to the fact that smaller practices employ fewer medical practitioners unlike those who work in large hospitals.

However, there are times when a surgeon’s specialty will dictate whether they are required to be at work or if over-the-phone assistance is enough. More experienced professionals such as neurosurgeons are typically required to come to work while on-call since there are procedures that a general surgeon cannot do alone.

What the hours are like for surgeons

On average surgical experts work 50-60 hours each week, excluding the hours they are required to log for their on-call hours. For the most part, a large number of practices try to keep the surgical hours to no more than a total of 80 hours every week. As many would expect, a surgeon has a set number of days when they are performing scheduled procedures. The remainder of their time is generally spent doing research or assisting in emergency care.

Since there are medical procedures that require several hours to complete, surgeons typically work in shifts. Nonetheless, their shifts tend to go beyond the standard eight-hour-long workday. The medical professional’s shift can depend highly on the following attributes:

Surgical experience

It is only logical for surgeons with more experience under their belt to be working longer shifts than those who are just a year or even less into their practice. The reason is primarily that those with more experience are armed with a reputable set of skills and are obviously so much more comfortable working long hours. During procedures, a surgeon’s shift can easily span 12 to 28 hours. In the event of a health crisis or emergency situation, their working hours are nonstop. In order to balance out their extremely long shifts, surgeons often only work a handful of days each week. The average surgeon is said to have a four-day workweek.

Area of specialty

It’s a no-brainer that certain specialties have longer hours since it requires extensive knowledge and skills. Surgical procedures that relate to a wider demographic like pediatric surgery or trauma operations require surgeons to work shifts that are longer. Inversely, a thoracic surgeon isn’t as in demand because there are fewer people in need of surgical care for heart and chest conditions on a daily basis.

The employer

Large medical facilities such as hospitals employ a bigger staff. Therefore, there are more healthcare professionals available to take on shifts. This eliminates the need for certain experts to work longer than needed. Conversely, those in private practices tend to have a more specific schedule set by the employer. The main benefit of working in private practice is that it follows regular business hours, as opposed to hospitals which are open at all times of the day.

At the end of the day

Surgeons may not have to work every day but this does not mean they have a lot of free time on their hands. Many surgeons spend a lot of their days off resting more than anything else. Due to the taxing nature of their work, getting enough rest, exercise, following a healthy diet, and generally leading a healthy lifestyle is a must. This balance can be difficult to achieve but for the wellbeing of patients as well as physicians, it is a mandate that should be taken seriously.

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