Career outlook for surgeon

UK Salary Ranges





Currently employed in Scotland


Salary information is provided by the "National Careers Service". "Oxford Economics" supplies job forecasts and employment figures. Due to COVID-19 the jobs market is constantly changing. Some of the information may not reflect the current situation.

What's it like?

Being a surgeon is a hands-on job where you help others and even save lives. It comes with a lot of responsibility, with people putting their trust in you.

You'd carry out operations on patients who need them. It might be because they're injured or have a worsening health condition. They could also wish to have plastic surgery.

Other hospital doctors and GPs would refer patients to you, or they might come from an accident and emergency department. They may be anxious and upset so you’d need to communicate with them to help them calm down.

What you'll do in this job:

  • meet patients to choose the best option
  • explain the process and risks of surgery
  • take tests and arrange X-rays
  • carry out operations working as part of a team
  • meet with nurses and junior doctors after operations
  • carry out daily ward visits to check on your patients
  • write to GPs about your patients’ health and treatments
  • train and look after junior doctors and other medical staff

You might also carry out research and publish papers.

You could be a general surgeon with a wide range of skills and knowledge, or you could specialise in one area.

This could be operating on a specific part of the body. For example, neurosurgeons perform operations on parts of the nervous system including the brain. You could be working with a particular group of people. Paediatric surgeons work with children and young people.

You could also specialise in doing a particular type of surgery that isn't localised in one part of the body. For example, plastic surgeons carry out surgery to restore, reconstruct or alter the body. They can also perform non-surgical treatments such as Botox injections or lip fillers.

There's more information about NHS roles on the surgery page on the NHS Careers website.​​​​​​

Working conditions


You'd work long hours including nights and weekends, and you'd be part of an out-of-hours rota system. While you're still in training, you cannot work more than 48 hours per week on average.


You will spend time in a variety of settings such as consulting rooms, wards, operating theatres and special units like accident and emergency.

UK employment status





Self employed


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  • Resilience
  • Verbal communication
  • Problem solving
  • Researching
  • Empathising
  • Attention to detail
  • Concentrating
  • Developing a plan
  • Making decisions
  • Taking responsibility

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Getting in

Entry requirements for courses can change. Always contact the college, university or training provider to check exactly what you'll need.


You'll need a degree in medicine approved by the General Medical Council (GMC). This'll take up to 5 or 6 years to complete. You'll then do 2 years of general training working in medical settings as a junior doctor.

After this you can begin your surgeon training. This would be 2 years of core training followed by up to 6 more in whatever specialism you choose to follow.

To get a recognised degree, you’ll need to go to university. This means you’ll need to get good grades in school. Courses usually need you to have both:

  • National 5 qualifications
  • at least are five Highers at AAAAB or above 

Having Advanced Highers in science subjects will also boost your chances when applying.

You must apply to UCAS by 15 October of the year before the course commences. 

If you don't get the grades you need for a degree you could do a Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) course. This is a one year course designed to help you apply for a degree in medicine afterwards. 

This is not an option for school leavers. You'll need to wait a few years after school to apply. You need to:

  • have been out of education for three years, or five years if you have Highers 
  • not already have a degree 

Colleges currently offering an Access to Medical Studies (SWAP) course are:

  • Glasgow Clyde College
  • Glasgow Kelvin College
  • Edinburgh College 

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Useful subjects

  • maths (required by most courses)
  • chemistry (required by most courses)
  • biology (required by most courses)
  • physics (required by most courses)
  • human biology (required by some courses)
  • English
  • care
  • social subjects such as psychology

You will also need

Before applying to medical school you'll need to sit the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). This is a test used by medical courses to help make admissions decisions. It'll give you a chance to stand out from other applicants.

You'll need to be a member of the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme run by Disclosure Scotland.

You should be fit and healthy.

You must provide evidence that you do not have, and have been immunised against, Hepatitis B.

Helpful to have

A driving licence.