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What is a general surgeon?

May 28, 2019 • read

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What is a general surgeon?

Most of us have no idea what a general surgeon is or what they do. Unless you or a loved one has seen one, chances are you can’t name any of the surgeries they perform. Despite this, these doctors are crucial to medicine. Let’s learn a bit about how a general surgeon can help you.

How many types of surgeons are there?

The American College of Surgeons recognizes 14 different surgical specializations. Most limit themselves to specific areas of the body — the thoracic surgeon deals with the chest; the neurological surgeon with the brain, nervous system and spine; and so on. General surgeons, in contrast, can seem a bit like outliers — they receive specialized training in caring for the whole patient.

What do general surgeons do?

General surgeons are trained in diagnostics and in preoperative, operative and postoperative care. This means that they follow their patients from the time they present with an issue, until discharge. Despite their title, general surgeons have highly specialized training that qualifies them to treat much of the body. After medical school, a general surgeon must receive five additional years of training in order to be certified. This prepares them to perform surgery on the digestive tract, abdomen, breasts, skin, soft tissue, head and neck, as well as both the circulatory and the endocrine system (a series of glands that produce hormones). It might be easier to think of a general surgeon as specializing in surgical treatment of the torso, with a bunch of extras. Some become highly specialized in one area, while others perform multiple different surgeries on a regular basis.

Their broad and comprehensive training often makes general surgeons the best choice for dealing with patients suffering from major trauma. Because of this, they often work in the emergency room and the ICU. If you’re unlucky enough to be in a serious car accident and require surgery, it will likely be performed by a general surgeon.

General surgery procedures

General surgeons don’t just remove tumours and save the lives of trauma victims. Given their range, they frequently perform a number of other types of general surgery. Gallbladder surgery, is one of the most common surgeries performed in Canada, with 74, 293 procedures performed in 2016 alone. Called a “cholecystectomy,” it involves removing the patient’s gallbladder and is usually done by a general surgeon.

Another common procedure performed by general surgeons is a hemorrhoidectomy. Just as it sounds, this outpatient procedure involves the removal or remedy of hemorrhoids. General surgeons also perform mastectomies and lumpectomies. Many end up specializing in oncology, and will often remove tumours of the skin or thyroid. In a more rural setting, however, you might come across a general surgeon with even more responsibilities — they might be doing gynecological or ear, nose and throat surgeries, for example.

Online general surgery consultations

While it might seem weird to see a surgeon online, it makes a surprising amount of sense in many cases. An initial consult for routine procedures like hemorrhoidectomies and cholecystectomies for example, usually involves taking the patient’s history and hearing their description of their symptoms. In most cases, patients are able to take photos to replace a visual inspection if necessary. For those of us living in urban centres with long specialist wait times, or those in rural settings facing extensive travel time, online consultations remove many of the barriers to care.

Hopefully you’ll never have to visit a general surgeon. Those of us who need the care they provide, however, should be grateful that general surgeons receive the extensive training they do. Get in touch with us to learn more about how a general surgeon might be able to help you.

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