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Becoming a paediatric surgeon

28 November 2018
Everything you need to know about becoming a paediatric surgeon
The Children's Hospital Westmead Clinical School takes over 500 medical students each year, many of whom go on to become paediatric surgeons. Our experts share their advice on how to get there.

What is a paediatric surgeon?

A paediatric surgeon is a medically qualified doctor who treats children from birth up to 18 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. 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.

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

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 Scholarships
  • MD Research project
  • Elective term
  • Pre-internship term

What does paediatric training involve?

In Australia and New Zealand, the training scheme is administered and coordinated by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS). Following qualification as a medical doctor, candidates must have successfully completed their intern year and postgraduate year. 

As a resident medical officer, you are eligible to apply for advanced training in Paediatric Surgery. From the 2018 intake applicants must have successfully completed the Generic Surgical Sciences Examination and 10 weeks in a recognised paediatric surgery unit.

The process is competitive, with a few positions available each year. Once appointed, the program is approximately seven years full-time duration in accredited centres but varies as it is a competency-based program. 

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 a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (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. A detailed overview of the training program can be found on the RACS website, A guide to Paediatric Surgical Training.

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