This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Surgeons consult with patients and operate on people to treat and manage disease and injuries.
Trainee surgeons usually earn
$70K-$175K per year
Experienced surgeons usually earn
$151K-$600K per year
Source: Association of Salaried Medical Specialists and Resident Doctors' Association.
Current job prospects
How many people are doing this job?
Source: Medical Council of New Zealand.
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 $70,000 and $175,000 a year.
- Qualified surgeons working for a DHB usually earn between $151,000 and $212,000.
- Surgeons working in the private sector earn more than this. Those at the top level may earn up to $600,000.
Sources: Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), '2013 to 2016 National DHB Collective Agreement (MECA)'; Resident Doctors' Association, '2012 to 2013 DHB Collective Agreement'; and Ian Powell, executive director, ASMS.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job 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.
- 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.
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
- 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.
- University of Otago website - information about the Health Sciences First Year programme
- University of Otago website - information about the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery
- University of Auckland website - information about the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery
- Royal Australasian College of Surgeons website - information about surgeon training
- Medical Council of New Zealand website - information about surgeon training
To enter tertiary training you need to have NCEA Level 3. Useful subjects include maths with calculus and/or statistics, chemistry, physics, biology and English.
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 for surgeons includes:
- work in hospitals or other health-related work, such as in a clinic
- work caring for people.
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
- Health Careers
- Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS)
- (04) 385 8247 - firstname.lastname@example.org
- Medical Council of New Zealand
- 0800 286 801 - www.mcnz.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Number of factors contribute to shortage of surgeons
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 that it can be hard for New Zealand to attract surgeons from overseas to work here.
General surgeons appear on Immigration New Zealand's long term skill shortage list.
Extra payment for graduates working in hard-to-staff locations, and in general surgery
The Ministry of Health runs a voluntary bonding scheme, with additional payments, aimed at recruiting more graduate doctors to work in locations that are hard to staff, such as rural areas, and specialist areas that are hard to staff, such as general surgery.
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 November 2014. (www.asms.org.nz).
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Long-term Skill Shortage List', accessed November 2014, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Medical Council of New Zealand, 'The New Zealand Medical Workforce in 2010', accessed November 2014, (www.mcnz.org.nz).
- Symmes, G, communications manager, Medical Council of New Zealand, Careers New Zealand interview, February 2013.
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 role.
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.
- 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
- Plastic or Reconstructive Surgeon
- Plastic or reconstructive surgeons correct or restore body function or appearance for aesthetic or therapeutic reasons.
Last updated 17 January 2017