HomeSurgery ArticlesSurgeons Vs Physicians | How Do They Differ?

Surgeons Vs Physicians | How Do They Differ?


The medical industry is diverse, with a spectrum of specializations and careers that work together for the wellness of society.

The sector has technologists, hygienists, therapists, pathologists, and specialists who cater to different patients and health professions.

But on top of this sector are the physicians and surgeons. Wherever they work, they are respected, admired, and looked up to because of their life-saving expertise and powerful knowledge.

They also receive one of the highest salaries in the workforce. But what are the differences between surgeons and physicians?

This article will list them down for you. But first, let’s find out who physicians and surgeons are and what they do:


are medical doctors with a medical degree. They take care of patients, have expertise in medicine, and improve their skills as they practice.

They are also responsible for giving medical advice, prescribing medications, conducting tests, and keeping their patients’ medical histories.


are also physicians, but they are capable of and authorized to perform surgery, where they make incisions and physically alter the patients’ bodies.

During operations, surgeons may use the latest medical technologies like lasers, radiation, probes, and ultrasound.

The differences between surgeons and physicians

Education and qualifications

            Surgeons and physicians complete the initial requirements to become medical doctors.

Like most countries in the Western world, Australian aspirants need to finish high school and complete a bachelor’s degree.

Then, they must pass the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test or GAMSAT and apply to a medical school.

Once they are accepted, they will study for a four-year Doctor of Medicine degree and complete a year of internship at a hospital.

These are followed by general medical registration and another year of prevocational training.

At this point, the path of aspiring surgeons will diverge from the physicians’.

After being an intern for three years, surgeons will enter the Surgical Education and Training provided by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

After five to six years, completers will rightfully practice surgery as a fellow of the said college.

Medical specialties

Physicians and surgeons can focus on specific medical fields based on their skills and interests. Here, their differences are evident.

The specialization for physicians and medical doctors include the following fields:

  • Allergy and immunology, where they can help allergy patients and those with immune diseases;
  • Anesthesiology for critical care, pain medicine, and sleep medicine;
  • Dermatology, which covers skin, hair, and nail disorders;
  • Family medicine, where they master integrated care;
  • Internal medicine for treating the cardiovascular structures, the kidneys, the digestive system, and other organs;
  • Medical genetics, which includes treating genetic disorders and researching them;
  • Obstetrics and gynecology, which treats the female reproductive system and pregnant women;
  • Pediatrics, for treating infants, children, and young adolescents;
  • Physical rehabilitation, where physicians help patients with spinal cord damage and muscular disabilities such as stroke victims;
  • Psychiatry, which treats people with mental illnesses and problems.

Surgeons, however, focus on different surgical specializations and techniques:

  • Academic surgery centers on research and teaching settings.
  • Cardiothoracic surgery focuses on operating on the lungs, heart, and tracts.
  • General surgery has several subspecialties about operating on the breast, endocrine glands, gastrointestinal systems, and vascular structures.
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery focuses on the facial structure and neck. It includes operating on facial deformities, trauma, and cleft disorders.
  • Pediatric surgery is the operation for infants to teenagers. It has subspecializations such as neonatal surgery, urological surgery, and oncological surgery.
  • Plastic surgery is about the aesthetic and emergency reconstruction of body parts.
  • Vascular surgery means treating cardiovascular tracts with operations. This specialization used to be under general surgery until 2012 as taught by the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Workforce statistics

The Medical Board of Australia reports that in the first three months of 2021, there are 12,292 physicians in the country.

However, the number of surgeons is half of that: 6,429. After all, surgery requires over five more years of exhausting and expensive training and practice.

Work schedule

The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that physicians (including surgeons) commonly work between 40 to 80 hours every week.

In Australia, Job Outlook reports that surgeons work for 56 hours per week on average, while physicians work for 46 hours at that rate.

Physicians and surgeons work overnight in irregular schedules. But surgeons are more exposed to lengthy operations and stressful environments.

Surgeons typically conduct two to three surgeries every day. Simple procedures like cataract surgeries and ear tube surgeries only take at least fifteen minutes.

However, they might also perform complicated surgeries with multiple stages for several hours.

They also respond and face intense pressure during large-scale accidents where many patients need critical surgeries.


Given the diversity of how physicians and surgeons practice their careers, they work in different settings, practicing their profession in hospitals, clinics, universities, government facilities, and private care.

However, surgeons work primarily in operating rooms and sterile environments. During surgeries, they stand for several hours.


The highest-paying jobs stand in the medical industry. Rightfully so, because of their expensive investment in entering the field and the demand for highly skilled medical practitioners.

But income and compensation show the stark contrast between physicians and surgeons.

The statistics released by the Australian Taxation Office reveal that surgeons, on average, gain a taxable income of AU $394,303, followed by anesthesiologists (with AU $386,065), internal medicine specialists ($304,752), and psychiatrists ($235,558).

Other medical professionals (including physicians) earn $222,933.

Therefore, surgeons, on average, earn over a hundred thousand dollars more than their physician colleagues.

Job outlook and prospects

Although the Covid-19 pandemic is gradually changing the Australian job setting, the government says that the medical industry’s prospect in the coming years is positive.

The same goes for both physicians and surgeons. Job Outlook reports that from 2014 to 2019, the number of surgeons “grew strongly,” while the workforce of general practitioners and resident medical officers grew moderately. 

According to Truity, more countries will see a rise in demand for physicians and surgeons despite new technologies like remote monitoring.

However, this demand also depends on the health care coverage policies of countries.

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