HomeSurgery ArticlesSurgery vs Operation: What Is the Difference?

Surgery vs Operation: What Is the Difference?

The words surgery and operation are always considered synonymous. These words have become a part of the medical industry, pop culture, and the millions of people saved through these procedures.

Surgeries and operations may be interchangeable, but they can have different meanings and applications depending on the context.

This article will compare surgery and operations. But first, we should understand the meaning of surgery and operation (in its medical context).

The definition of surgery

Surgery is a medical specialty where patients’ bodies are cut to treat diseases, injuries, and impairments. It is also conducted to improve the appearance of body parts and repair damage.

During surgeries, nurses and surgeons may use instruments and tools to treat the patient. Usually, surgeries consist of surgeons, assistants, anesthesiologists, nurses, and surgical technologists.

Surgeries may take a few minutes or days based on the complexity, severity, and urgency of the patients’ condition.

Surgeries are also classified and determined based on their urgency, purpose, requirements, and range. The examples include:

  • Emergency surgeries. Thesehelp patients with trauma, injuries, and acute illnesses that require urgent treatment
  • Elective surgeries. These are non-emergency surgeries planned and scheduled in advance. Bariatric surgery is an example of elective surgery.
  • Exploratory surgeries. These are diagnostic procedures where doctors open a patient to look for a disease or injury. Such surgeries are gradually being replaced by modern imaging technology and techniques.
  • Cosmetic surgeries. These elective procedures seek to improve a patient’s appearance and body parts.
  • Amputation surgeries. These are the removal of body parts because of diseases, infections, injuries, or deformities.
  • Extirpative surgeries. These thoroughly remove tissue or an organ, especially cancer cells, tumours, and severely infected organs.
  • Transplant surgeries. In this kind of procedure, an organ is removed and placed in someone else’s body as a replacement.
  • Laparoscopic surgeries. During laparoscopy, a surgeon inserts a narrow tube into the patient’s abdomen. Here, the surgeon will insert another instrument to cut and sew tissues.
  • Microsurgeries. These involve microscopes and precise instruments to treat tiny body parts, such as nerves, small blood vessels, delicate tissues, and reattached organs.

From these examples of surgeries, it is evident that the word surgery is used exclusively in medical contexts and perspectives.

The definition of operation

The word operation is less specific. It is synonymous with surgery, but the operation can refer to different actions, situations, and contexts.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists the diverse definitions of operation as a noun:

  • The execution of processes and principles (ex. Study the upcoming school operation.)
  • The manifestation of influence or potency (ex. The operation of the medicine is evident.)
  • The quality of being functional (ex. The hospital is now in operation.)
  • How something functions (ex. The equipment has a brief operation.)
  • Mathematical or logical methods (ex. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are operations.)
  • Military action and mission (ex. The invasion will begin with the operation next week.)
  • Speculative business transactions (ex. The stock market facilitated the operations in oil futures.)
  • A small business (ex. Our selling operation is successful.)
  • An individual step of a program completed by a computer (ex. The first operations of the game ran without errors.)

From this list of definitions, we can see that operation has a more diverse roster of meanings. It can be a term in medicine (primarily a synonym for surgery), business, mathematics, engineering, and the military.

Surgery vs operation in British English and Australian English

In American English, the words surgery and operation are interchangeable, as mentioned earlier. Because of pop culture and the Internet, this has become a fact for millions of English speakers worldwide.

These words, however, are also subject to regional differences. In British English, surgery pertains to the medical discipline itself and the doctor’s office. On the other hand, operation means the actual procedure where tissues are cut and where patients are sliced open.

Furthermore, in British English, the word surgery is not a countable noun.

In Australia, surgery and operation generally mean the same. But some physicians use the word surgery for their office.

Surgery vs operation in definition and usage

Surgery refers to the medical field and treatment where patients are treated through cutting and incisions. This term cannot be used in other contexts and meanings.

On the contrary, an operation may have the same meaning as surgery, but it can also refer to other fields and disciplines. It may also refer to a specific and pre-planned action, performance, method, procedure, or solution.

Surgeries require years of training and studies. Hence, they can only be experts by accredited surgeons or physicians. It may even refer to the offices of physicians and dentists where surgeries happen.

However, operations (outside the medical context) can be accomplished by soldiers, business people, programmers, machine users, and anyone who solves a specific problem.

Therefore, surgery is a form of operation, but operations cannot be automatically a type of surgery. It is also crucial to understand the nuances of these words before using them to avoid any confusion.

Surgery vs operation in etymology

The differences between surgery and operation do not end in what they mean and how they work in English.

Their history magnifies their dissimilarity and reflects how these words (and medicine as a whole) evolved through the centuries.

Surgery developed around the 13th century as sirgirie. This Middle English word suggests medical treatments through cutting.

Further back, sirgirie came from the Old French word serurgerie derived from the Latin word chirurgia.

All of these bear the meaning that we have now for surgery. But the root of these English, French, and Latin words for surgery came from the Greek word kheirourgia or working by hand.

In tracing the etymology of surgery, it is evident that this has been used exclusively in medical contexts since Latin adopted the term.

The word operation, however, was first used during the 14th century in its present spelling. Derived from the Old French word operacion, the word operation means action, work, and performance of a science or an art.

The French got this word from Latin’s operationem, which means to labour, work, or cause.

Etymologists point out that operation became a synonym for surgeries in the 1590s.

Surgery always carries the risk of complications, while operations do not.

Surgery always carries the risk of complications, while operations do not. This is because surgery involves cutting into the body, which can damage tissues and organs. Operations, on the other hand, are less invasive and only require the use of medical instruments.

The risk of complications depends on the type of surgery being performed. Some surgeries, such as open heart surgery, carry a higher risk of complications than others.

The most common complications associated with surgery are infection, bleeding, and blood clots. These complications can be serious and even life-threatening.

Surgery can also lead to complications such as nerve damage, organ damage, and blood loss. These complications can be disabling or even fatal.

Although surgery carries a risk of complications, most surgeries are successful and patients are able to recover without any major problems.

When deciding whether or not to have surgery, patients should discuss the risks and benefits with their doctor. Patients should also make sure that they are healthy enough to tolerate surgery and that they understand the potential complications.


The main difference between surgery and operation is that surgery is a medical specialty that uses operative manual and instrumental techniques on a patient to investigate or treat a pathological condition whereas operation is a procedure or set of procedures performed on a patient.

There are different types of surgeries, which include but are not limited to: general surgery, neurosurgery, ophthalmology, otolaryngology, plastic surgery, and urology. Operations, on the other hand, can be either invasive or non-invasive. Invasive operations are those that involve making an incision into the body, whereas non-invasive operations are those that do not involve making an incision into the body.

Some common surgeries include but are not limited to: appendectomy, hernia surgery, gallbladder surgery, and tonsillectomy. Some common operations include but are not limited to: angioplasty, cardiac surgery, and colonoscopy.

In conclusion, surgery and operation are two different things. Surgery is a medical specialty that uses operative manual and instrumental techniques on a patient to investigate or treat a pathological condition, whereas operation is a procedure or set of procedures performed on a patient.


  1. What is the difference between surgery and operation?

Surgery is a medical procedure that involves the removal of tissue or organs from the body, while an operation is a medical procedure that usually involves the repair or replacement of a body part.

  1. Why would someone need surgery?

There are many reasons why someone might need surgery, including to remove a cancerous tumor, to repair a damaged organ, or to correct a birth defect.

  1. What are the risks of surgery?

As with any medical procedure, there are risks associated with surgery, such as bleeding, infection, and reaction to anesthesia.

  1. How long does surgery usually take?

The length of time required for surgery varies depending on the type of surgery being performed. Some surgeries may only take a few minutes, while others may require several hours.

  1. What is the recovery time for surgery?

The amount of time required for recovery from surgery also varies depending on the type of surgery. Some people may be able to go home the same day, while others may need to stay in the hospital for several days.

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