Surgery Clerkship

I finished up my Surgery Clerkship a while back and thought it was about time I gave you guys a peek into the daily life of a medical student rotating through surgery! I was a little terrified going in, but the residents all mostly turned out to be very down to earth (hard-working and busy, but down to earth) and helpful.


A specialty that encompasses a variety of sub-specialties and involves a lot of…surgeries…who’d have guessed it? The residency for general surgery is usually five years and fellowships to specialize in other things are an additional 1 or more years after that. All in all – it’s takes a lot time to become a surgeon.

The Clerkship

  • 8 Weeks – Five weeks are split between the services covered in our hospital, including (but not limited to) trauma, vascular, general, burn (and burn ICU), SICU, etc. We also spent one week on a specialty (mine was Pediatric Surgery) and one week on Urology with the final half-week reserved for shelf-studying.
  • Occasional lectures, grand rounds, tumor boards and meetings.
  • Eight overnight calls – Basically arrive at the hospital around 5:30am as per usual and leave the next day around 8am or so.

Daily Life

  • Usually arrive around 5:30am or 6:00am and round on your patients, be ready for morning checkout by 7:00am.
  • Morning Checkout: Goes through all the patients admitted overnight and ensures all surgeries for the day are scheduled and covered by residents and attendings.
  • The rest of the day is reserved for surgeries, it’s really dependent on what service you’re on.
  • Typically home between 5pm and 8pm, depending on the service & how busy they are.
  • Occasionally you’ll go to clinic in the afternoon instead of scrubbing into surgeries.

Surgery Clerkship Books


  • Pestana Notes for Surgery – Easily the best and most used resource for this shelf exam, you can read about it here. Our school provided copies of it, so I’m not sure where to buy them.
  • NMS Surgery Casebook– Highly rated and easy to read, tons of relevant cases.
  • NMS Surgery Textbook – I didn’t use this, but heard positive things about it from people who wanted more text than just cases.
  • Surgical Recall – MUST HAVE for pocket book on this rotation! This book is so useful, even for other rotations. I guarantee it will have 85% of the pimp questions you receive on this rotation right there inside it. I used it to review relevant chapters before surgeries.
  • Overall  – This shelf exam is very Internal Medicine heavy, don’t just study surgery books! I made the mistake of sticking solely to Surgical books and while I still did okay, I think reviewing some internal medicine would’ve served me well.

What I Like

  • Working With My Hands: This field is centered greatly around the use of tactile skills. I liked that we were always doing something and getting immediate feedback on whether our interventions were successful or not.
  • Trauma Call: I did not expect to love trauma call, but it was so fun! There’s something exciting about being able to immediately solve an awful problem with your own two hands (and by “own two hands” I mean…other people’s hands…because let’s be honest, my hands don’t solve anything other than AgenesisOfTheCoffeeCup at this point).
  • Pediatric Surgery: This field was so fascinating to me. I saw an extremely skilled surgeon operate on a teeny, tiny 2 month old baby (who was born around 24 weeks). It was amazing. The whole week I was on Pedi Surg I was in love – it was great. However, in the end I knew it was not for me…mostly because I have no interest in doing 5 years of general surgery to maybe or maybe not get into one of the most competitive fellowships out there.

What I Dislike

  • Constantly Standing In One Place: Some surgeries are LONG – particularly some of the trauma surgeries and vascular surgeries – and standing in one place for 10 hour surgeries on a regular basis makes me wanna vomit. A couple days per week operating sounds great to me, but some of these surgeons are operating 5, 6, 7 days a week for 10 or 12 hrs a day. I just don’t have the stamina for that.
  • Variety: I can’t decide if there was too much variety or too little. All we did was operate – there was nothing else! There was tons of variety in that they possess the skills to do a huge number of different surgeries, but all they do is surgery!
  • No Pregnant Women: Unless it’s a dire emergency, general surgeons do not operate on pregnant women. I missed that patient population terribly.
  • Lack of Relationships: Except in very rare circumstances, these doctors are (rightly) not focused on getting to know their patients or developing long-term relationships with them. I missed getting to know my patients and having some continuity of care.
  • Often A Sad Specialty: A lot of surgeries end up with less than optimal outcomes, especially in trauma surgery. Most of the patients are very sick and many of them don’t make it. I missed having the occasional healthy or happy patient.

Overall, I enjoyed the rotation, but it was extremely exhausting and very emotionally taxing. The hours were long (often students were exceeding the intern hour restrictions) and the work was very different than what I want in my day-to-day life. While I enjoy utilizing my tactile skills (or, developing them, rather), I don’t want surgery to be the sole focus of my career. I really enjoy being a part of a patient’s care long-term and getting to know them a bit better and I’d miss that if I were to decide to go into this specialty.

Information on Other Clerkships!



Image: | jannoon028