General surgery

General surgeons employ a wide range of knowledge and skills to perform surgery, often in emergency situations. There is frequently an emphasis on acute abdominal problems.

This page provides useful information on the nature of the work, the common procedures/interventions, sub-specialties and other roles that may interest you.

surgeon with tools

Nature of the work

General surgery encompasses a broad range of surgery which includes:

General surgery is one of the two largest surgical specialties in the UK (the other being trauma and orthopaedics) employing 31% of the country’s consultant surgeons. This is a wide ranging surgical specialty with many sub-specialties.

General surgeons usually have their own subspecialty and also perform more general work.  Acute abdominal pain is the most common emergency presentation requiring surgery, since the abdomen has various organs which may be causing the pain. Common conditions requiring surgery include appendicitis, hernias and gallstones.

“The atmosphere in the operating theatre is great and you get to know your colleagues really well”. Bynvant Sandhu, higher specialty trainee, General surgery.

Read Bynvant’s story

Common procedures/interventions

Laparoscopic or minimally invasive surgery (also known as “keyhole surgery”) is now widely used within general surgery. These techniques are also popular with patients as there is less scarring, a shorter recovery time and improved outcomes. Most abdominal operations including bowel tumour removal and hernia repair can now be carried out laparoscopically.  Some general surgeons choose to specialise in laparoscopic surgery.


Sub-specialties within general surgery include:

Specialist training is also provided for advanced trauma surgery (for military surgery and trauma centres) and for remote and rural surgery.

Where do they work

General surgeons have an important role to play in A&E departments where emergency surgery is needed. In rural and remote areas general surgeons are in demand for their wide range of skills.

General surgeons also perform trauma surgery following accidents, although this has decreased because of improved car safety. This work requires close collaboration with other specialist colleagues and a holistic approach to treatment.

A small number of general surgeons are highly specialised and they only perform complex surgery within their own subspecialty, such as organ transplant surgery.

Within the Armed Forces military surgeons are general surgeons, where their work has an emphasis on trauma and emergency surgery.  General surgeons also carry out many simple childhood operations.

Specialist training is also provided for advanced trauma surgery (for military surgery and trauma centres) and for remote and rural surgery.

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