Surgery is one of the busiest, and one of the most demanding professions in the world. The sheer nature of the medical world means that there is little time to rest for these professionals. Every second of every minute of every hour, someone somewhere in the world would require surgical attention. As such, it’s almost common knowledge that doctors work some of the most grueling hours in the world. But we often neglect to ask; how many hours do these individuals actually work?
According to several labor data statistics, the average working week of a surgeon ranges from 50-60 hours, not counting on-call hours. On-call hours are the times when a surgeon isn’t physically present in the hospital or practice, but they are still available to be called at any time.
This means that on average, a surgeon may work 10-12 hours a day, assuming they work five days a week. This is far beyond the average 8 hour work day that most people experience. This is because of the sheer importance of the medical profession, seeing as that people require a wide plethora of medical attention on a daily basis.
Of course, there are limitations. Modern labor laws prohibit surgeons from working any more than 80 hours a week. This is obviously for the best, since at that rate, a surgeon’s health would deteriorate much faster due to stress and lack of sleep.
Unlike other jobs, where seniority would often grant you less punishing work hours, surgeons with more experience actually work even longer shifts compared to the younger surgeons. This is due to the more senior surgeons being more skilled in virtually all areas of surgery, thanks to more practice, and study. A senior surgeon’s shift varies between 12 to even 28 hours long (the former being in extreme cases where the area is currently experiencing a major health crisis). Thankfully, more experienced surgeons also get the luxury of working less than six days a week to offset this.
Of course, some surgery specializations have longer working hours than others as well. Namely, trauma/emergency surgeons and pediatric surgeons work much longer hours due to the much larger demographic of people they need to attend to. In the case of trauma surgeons, accidents happen all the time, and thus these surgeons are often stationed in the Emergency Rooms of hospitals. This environment is extremely hectic and stressful, with surgeries often piling up one after the other, especially if the hospital is located in a city with a high crime rate.
In the case of pediatric surgeons, women are giving birth at a steadily increasing rate, which requires pediatric surgeons to be more and more available. For every 1 in 33 births, a defect is present in the infant, requiring the work of pediatric surgeons in order to save the baby. This manifests in another hectic environment in the maternity ward, almost comparable to the emergency room, thanks to the sheer volume of new and expectant mothers every year.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have more specialized surgeons like neurosurgeons, and cardiothoracic surgeons, who don’t often work nearly as much as their emergency and pediatric counterparts. Neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons specialize in more esoteric conditions with the brain, heart, and lungs, respectively that their patients often number few and far between. This makes it so that neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons have much more flexible hours compared to other surgeons.
Regardless of what specialization a surgeon is in, or what level of seniority they have, it’s still an objective fact that surgeons still experience large amounts of working hours, even on the low end. And even during moments when they may have free time, if they are still on-call, they may be summoned to their hospital to render their services immediately. This would often prove to be a problem among surgeons, because of how much it eats into their private lives. Because of this, surgeons often have to find ways to both balance their work and personal lives, and to relieve the stress from their work as well.
If we do the math, we can see that even on the low-end of things, surgeons still work an average of 10 hours a day. This leaves 14 hours, which we can subtract 8 from to account for sleep. This amounts to only 6 hours of time to themselves each day, which can be subtracted even more due to commutes, if applicable. The latter problem is especially prevalent in developing countries such as India, the Philippines, and Indonesia, which are all very large countries with hellish commutes.
Indeed, surgeons are hard-pressed to find ways to improve their work-life balance, but thankfully, medical school has recently taken steps to ensure that their graduates maintain a good knowledge of mental health, that way they may have the self-awareness to know when to seek a psychiatrist if the stress is too much for them. Additionally, as health professionals, surgeons of all people must also know the proper diet and exercise techniques to sustain themselves in such a schedule.
In conclusion, surgery hours are among the most demanding of any job, averaging at 50-60 hours per day, with a law-mandated maximum of 80, alongside on-call hours that can extend for the rest of the day. Surgeons dedicate themselves to these harsh schedules due to a sense of duty to always be available for patients who may need them. Despite this, surgeons continue to do good work for members of their city, and society thanks to their around-the-clock availability. With experience, comes more responsibilities and work hours, but it also means more avenues for these experienced surgeons to do good. And while some surgery specialties may be less demanding than others, that still doesn’t mean that even the less-performed specialties have an easier job than others.
Surgeons work more than what the average person is used to, and thus deserve our admiration and respect for them committing themselves to this noble profession. Surgeons sacrifice their personal lives, and in some cases their health for our benefit, and it’s time we appreciated it more.