The work of a surgeon varies according to his or her work environment and specialty. For example, a general surgeon who specializes in trauma care would most likely work in a large, urban hospital where he or she would spend a great deal of time in the operating room performing emergency surgical procedures at a moment's notice. On the other hand, a general surgeon who specializes in hernia repair would probably have a more predictable work schedule and would spend much of his or her time in an ambulatory (also called outpatient) surgery center.

The surgeon is responsible for the diagnosis of the patient, for performing operations, and for providing patients with postoperative surgical care and treatment. In emergency room situations, the patient typically comes with an injury or severe pain. If the patient needs surgery, the on-duty general surgeon will schedule the surgery. Depending on the urgency of the case, surgery may be scheduled for the following day, or the patient will be operated on immediately.

A surgeon sees such cases as gunshot, stabbing, and accident victims. Other cases that often involve emergency surgery include appendectomies and removal of kidney stones. When certain problems, such as a kidney stone or inflamed appendix, are diagnosed at an early stage, the surgeon can perform nonemergency surgery.

There are several specialties of surgery and four areas of subspecialization of general surgery. For these areas, the surgeon can receive further education and training leading to certification. A few of these specializations include neurosurgery (care for disorders of the nervous system), plastic and reconstructive surgery (care for defects of the skin and underlying musculoskeletal structure), orthopaedic surgery (care for musculoskeletal disorders that are present at birth or develop later), and thoracic surgery (care for diseases and conditions of the chest). The subspecializations for general surgery are: general vascular surgery, pediatric surgery, hand surgery, and surgical critical care.

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