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Rata Hāparapara

Alternative titles for this job

Surgeons consult with patients and operate on people to treat and manage disease and injuries.


Trainee surgeons usually earn

$72K-$124K per year

Experienced surgeons usually earn

$151K-$212K per year

Source: Assn of Salaried Medical Specialists and Resident Doctors' Assn, 2017.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a surgeon are good due to a shortage of workers.


Pay varies for surgeons and for registrars (those in training), depending on seniority, hours, location and frequency of on-call or emergency cover.

  • Registrars working for a district health board (DHB) usually earn between $72,000 and $124,000 a year.
  • Qualified surgeons working for a DHB usually earn between $151,000 and $212,000.
  • Surgeons working in the private sector may earn more than this. Those at the top level can earn up to $600,000.

Sources: Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), '2017 to 2020 National DHB Collective Agreement (MECA)'; Resident Doctors' Association, '2017 to 2018 DHB Collective Agreement'.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Surgeons may do some or all of the following:

  • examine patients and decide whether operations are needed
  • consult with other medical professionals about patient care and treatment
  • perform and manage operations
  • instruct and manage patients' post-operative care
  • check on patients' progress while they are in hospital
  • keep medical records and send final reports to general practitioners
  • provide follow-up care for patients
  • teach medical students and trainee surgeons
  • carry out research.

Skills and knowledge

Surgeons need to have:

  • knowledge of anatomy and how the human body works
  • surgical skills and knowledge 
  • knowledge of different diseases, illnesses and injuries
  • knowledge of medicines and treatments and the effect these have on patients
  • diagnostic skills
  • up-to-date knowledge of research, treatments and practices
  • knowledge of medical ethics and law.

Surgeons need to have some knowledge of other medical specialities such as oncology, radiology and pathology.

Working conditions


  • work long and irregular hours, including evenings, nights and weekends
  • work in operating theatres, hospital wards and clinics
  • work in conditions that may be stressful, as they deal with seriously ill or injured patients
  • travel locally to visit hospitals in their region and overseas to attend conferences.

Entry requirements

To become a surgeon you need to:

  • complete the Health Sciences First Year programme at Otago University, or the first year of either the Bachelor of Health Sciences or Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science at Auckland University
  • complete a five-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) degree at Otago or Auckland Universities
  • work for several years as a supervised junior doctor in a hospital
  • complete another five to seven years of specialist training and examinations to become a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

You also need to be registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand. 

The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children. 

Secondary education

NCEA Level 3 is required to enter tertiary training. Useful subjects include maths, chemistry, physics, biology and health education.

Personal requirements

Surgeons need to be:

  • accurate and careful, with an eye for detail
  • motivated and disciplined
  • quick and efficient
  • able to work well under pressure
  • able to make good decisions, and solve problems
  • good time managers
  • excellent at analysis and interpretation
  • good at report writing
  • good at communicating and inspiring confidence in others
  • understanding of other cultures' attitudes to medical treatment.

I like using my hands and constructing and building things and that’s what we do. You have to be practically oriented because you’re using saws and hammers and screwdrivers and drills.

Dr Richard Keddell

Orthopaedic Surgeon

Useful experience

Useful experience for surgeons includes:

  • work in hospitals or other health-related work, such as in a clinic
  • work caring for people.

Physical requirements

Surgeons need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses) and good hand-eye co-ordination. They also need to have steady hands.

Surgeons must have a good level of stamina as some surgery can take many hours.


Surgeons need to be registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand.

Find out more about training

Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS)
(04) 385 8247 - www.surgeons.org
Medical Council of New Zealand
0800 286 801 - www.mcnz.org.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Number of factors contribute to shortage of surgeons

General surgeon, the largest surgical specialisation, appears on Immigration New Zealand's long-term skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled surgeons from overseas to work in New Zealand.

The shortage of surgeons is due to:

  • New Zealand's growing and ageing population, which means increasing demand for surgeons to perform age-related surgeries
  • an ageing workforce – nearly a third of specialist doctors, including surgeons, are over 55 years old and due to retire in the next 10 years
  • some surgeons moving overseas for better pay and working conditions
  • a worldwide shortage of specialist doctors, which means it can be hard for New Zealand to attract surgeons from overseas to work here.

Surgeons third largest group of doctors

There are 859 registered surgeons in New Zealand, the third largest group of doctors after internal medicine specialists at 1,051 and general practitioners at 3,534, according to the Medical Council of New Zealand.

Oral and maxillofacial surgery, and plastic or reconstructive surgery are the specialisations with the largest increase in workforce numbers over the past five years. 

Surgeons work for public and private hospitals

Surgeons work in public or private hospitals, or a combination of both, and may also work in university medical schools.

  • District health boards employ all surgeons who work in public hospitals.
  • Private hospitals usually employ surgeons on a casual basis.
  • The medical schools at the Universities of Auckland and Otago employ surgeons in teaching and research roles.


  • Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, ‘Taking the Temperature of the Hospital Specialist Workforce, August 2014’, accessed January 2018. (www.asms.org.nz). 
  • Immigration New Zealand, 'Long Term Skill Shortage List', 15 February 2018, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
  • Medical Council of New Zealand registration data, 30 June 2017.
  • Symmes, G, communications manager, Medical Council of New Zealand, Careers Directorate - Tertiary Education Commission interview, October 2017.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Surgeons may progress to teach students and trainee surgeons at larger hospitals. Surgeons can also become clinical directors, combining an administrative role with a surgical one.

Surgeons can specialise in a number of roles including:

Cardiothoracic Surgeon
Cardiothoracic surgeons treat diseases and injuries of the heart, lungs and chest wall.
General Surgeon
General surgeons treat diseases and injuries of the abdomen, breast and endocrine (glandular) organs.
Neurosurgeons diagnose and treat patients with disorders of the central, peripheral and autonomic nervous system including their supportive structures and blood supply.
Orthopaedic Surgeon
Orthopaedic surgeons treat diseases and injuries of the bones, joints, muscles and soft tissue.
Otolaryngologists treat diseases and injuries of the head and neck.
Paediatric Surgeon
Paediatric surgeons diagnose and treat children who may require surgery. This includes the management of congenital abnormalities both ante-natally and in the neonatal period and the management of major trauma in children.
Plastic or Reconstructive Surgeon
Plastic or reconstructive surgeons correct or restore body function or appearance for aesthetic or therapeutic reasons.
Urologists diagnose and treat disorders of the urinary tracts in males and females, and male genital organs. It also includes the management of trauma to these organs and the management of male sterilisation, infertility and sexual dysfunction.
Vascular surgeon
Vascular surgeons diagnose and treat patients with disorders of the blood vessels (arteries and veins outside the heart and brain) and the lymphatic system.
A surgeon with theatre nurses and patient in an operating theatre

A surgeon, assisted by theatre nurses, preparing for an operation (Photo: Ministry of Health)

Last updated 8 September 2020