Becoming a Paediatric Surgeon

What is a paediatric surgeon?

A paediatric surgeon is a medically qualified doctor who treats children from birth up to 15 years of age. Although there have always been children that have required surgery, it is really only since the 1960s that paediatric surgery has evolved as its own surgical discipline. Paediatric surgeons are referred children by both general practitioners and paediatricians, or physicians specialising in the general medical care of children. Surgeons do not only operate, but consult, manage and treat many patients that do not require surgery. Paediatric surgeons have traditionally been broadly trained general surgeons that manage a wide range of surgical problems in children, in addition to important roles in research, teaching and advocacy. As paediatric surgery is such a small speciality, surgeons have a significant on-call commitment for acute surgical emergencies, including trauma, burns and urological problems in children.

What can I do to help me become a paediatric surgeon?

Whilst any surgical experience is likely to be valuable, successful completion of the following opportunities would make a student more competitive in any future application for a training position.

  • Summer research scholarship
  • MPhil/PhD
  • Elective
  • Pre-internship term

What does paediatric training involve?

In Australia and New Zealand, the training scheme is administered and co-ordinated by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS). Following qualification as a medical doctor, candidates must have successfully completed their intern year. As a resident medical officer, you are eligible to apply for advanced training in Paediatric Surgery. The process is extremely competitive, with very few positions available each year. Once appointed, the programme involves a minimum of 7 years full-time training in accredited centres. Candidates will train in a number of centres in different Australian states and in New Zealand. The second and third years of training involve adult surgical experience, with the first and fourth to seventh years in paediatric surgical centres. There are several barrier exams during training, together with a final fellowship examination in the last few years of training. Successful completion of this exam and training leads to award of an FRACS in Paediatric Surgery. Most junior fellows then spend a further period of time, typically one to two years, in post fellowship training overseas before applying for a consultant position. Most candidates would thus spend 10 to 12 years full-time work after qualifying as a doctor before completing their training in surgery and becoming eligible for appointment to a consultant position.

What are some possible career paths?

Nearly all paediatric surgeons would have a very busy clinical and on-call, including out of hours, workload. Some surgeons have developed their interests and expertise in research, teaching and advocacy.