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Surgery Specialty at a Glance

Experiencing surgery in the context of a fast-paced, surgery residency program (regardless of specialty) is important for students interested in a career in surgery. The best way to know what to expect from training and what will be expected of a student as a resident is to experience an environment where students work closely with a resident team. Participating in education conferences, learning to manage services with various complex patients, reporting to several different faculty attending surgeons on top of working in the construct of a surgery team is critical to understanding the resident working environment.

The third-year clerkship at IU School of Medicine includes four weeks of general surgery and four weeks of a subspecialty surgery experience. Medical students are distributed among many hospitals and services including regional campuses — many of which offer excellent one-on-one experiences with practicing surgeons. Opportunities to preference specific rotations and/or sites are available, but due to the number of students in the third-year class across all campuses, it is not always possible to grant everyone’s preference. Receiving a different preference is not a “make or break” scenario for any student interested in surgery, as the school provides opportunities for both career exploration and electives. Students interested in any surgery specialty should not schedule their third year surgery clerkship in the summer months (before September). Experiences for those third-year students in these early months can be affected (diluted) by additional learners (fourth-year students) rotating on the same rotations in pursuit of letters of recommendation.

Required to apply: USMLE Step 1 and 2 and letters of recommendation

Match Statistics

From 2018

Mean number of research experiences: 3.6
Mean number of abstracts, publication or presentations: 6.2
Mean number of volunteer experiences: 7
Mean number of work experiences: 3.2
Percent AOA: 18.7

  • Why should a student choose surgery?

    General surgeons provide a wide range of care to patients with conditions affecting a variety of areas including the gastrointestinal tract, the skin and soft tissues, endocrine, and other systems. Care is provided in outpatient, inpatient, and critical care settings. Interventions performed by general surgeons include minor, minimally invasive and major procedures.

  • Are there things students should do in Phase 1 (year 1 and 2) to prepare?

    Strong academic performance in required course is the top priority. Additionally, engaging in extracurricular scholarship (basic science/clinical/education research), service and leadership are great ways to build your professional identity and position yourself as a well-rounded candidate. Passionate dedication to a few projects/activities over time is almost always better than a multitude of activities that require minimal investment.

  • What electives are recommended for students pursuing surgery?

    A clinical general surgery elective on the Indianapolis campus in early fourth year, paired with the general surgery sub-I, is recommended for academic training exposure and for acquiring letters of recommendation. A surgery elective can be completed in the third year but is not necessary. Additional fourth year electives in surgical education (teaching or curriculum design), minimally invasive surgery (technical skills) or relevant medical specialties such as cardiology, nephrology and infectious disease are all reasonable choices.

  • What sub-Is do you recommend for students going into surgery?

    The general surgery sub-I is critical for anyone applying to general surgery and is highly recommended for students dual applying to general surgery and any other specialty. This should be completed prior to application submission, ideally in rotations 1-4. Scheduling preference is given to students who indicate general surgery as their top career preference in MSAS.

  • Is an away rotation recommended for surgery?

    Away rotations are not necessary for general surgery application, but many students elect to do one for exposure to another training program. Potential increase in odds of being offered an interview from a program in a different geographic region or slightly at reach for a particular candidate may also be reasons a student would choose to do an away rotation.

  • How important is research? Does it have to be specific to surgery?

    Research is not absolutely necessary for all general surgery training programs, but is much more common for applicants pursuing academic institutions. It is not necessary for research work be focused in general surgery. This experience generally serves as a surrogate for motivation and engagement with extracurricular scholarship, as well as other characteristics/competency traits such as life-long learning, seeing projects through to completion and interpersonal communication skills.

  • How long is surgery residency training?

    General surgery training is five clinical years. Many programs offer additional time (one to two years) for professional development, often research, and some even require this time. Additional fellowship training is available for many subspecialized areas of general surgery including trauma, surgical oncology, pediatric, transplant, cardiothoracic, plastic surgery and others.

  • Are there any surgery specific recommendations regarding letters of recommendation?

    Letters of recommendation should come from surgeons who have worked with the student clinically and can speak to their medical knowledge, clinical reasoning and interpersonal communication skills. Letters from physicians in other specialties generally do not carry the same weight unless there is a long standing, unique relationship such as significant research or other work. A departmental/chair letter of recommendation is provided by the Department of Surgery and is largely based on objective elements from the general surgery sub-I.

  • What are some useful resources for students considering surgery?

    The American College of Surgeons has several resources for students interested in pursuing a surgical career.

  • How does career mentoring at IU School of Medicine work in surgery?

    Katie Stanton-Maxey, MD, serves as the primary career mentor for students pursuing general surgery training, and is also available for assistance to students considering surgical specialties. Mentor connection starts with an email to the project manager for surgery undergraduate medical education, Megan Rendina at