Paediatric surgery

Paediatric surgeons work with young patients – from premature and unborn babies to children and young adults up to the age of 19.

You’ll have a very varied and sometimes unpredictable workload including surgery, attending outpatient clinics and hospital ward rounds and looking after both your young patients and their families. 

Surgeon in operating room

Life as a paediatric surgeon 

You’ll carry out more general forms of surgery such as abdominal, trauma or transplantation surgery, as well as specialist procedures such as neonatal surgery, often for congenital abnormalities. You might also perform complex surgery on children with disabilities to improve their quality of life.

Just over 10% of operations on children are carried out by paediatric surgeons with the majority being performed by other specialist surgeons in fields such as orthopaedic, plastic and ENT (ear, nose and throat) surgery. 

Some consultants have an interest in fields such as paediatric orthopaedics or neurosurgery, but they come from these surgical training routes, rather than paediatric surgery. You’ll work in partnership with these colleagues, either in dedicated children’s hospitals or in paediatric surgical units within larger hospitals.

You’ll also attend outpatient clinics and ward rounds where you’ll meet your patients and their parents or carers. An important part of your work will be reassuring and advising concerned parents and carers which can be rewarding as well as emotionally demanding.

Your clinical workload will mainly cover day cases. The amount of emergency surgery and on-call work you’ll do is relatively low compared to other specialties.

How much can I earn?

You’ll first earn a salary when you start your foundation training after medical school. The basic salary ranges from £32,398 to £37,303. Once you start your specialty training in the NHS, you can expect to earn a salary of at least £43,923, which can increase to between £93,666 and £126,281 as a consultant.

How about the benefits?

  • make a difference
  • flexible and part-time working
  • high income early in your career
  • work anywhere in the world
  • excellent pension scheme
  • good holiday entitlement
  • NHS discounts in shops and restaurants

Must-have skills

  • excellent communication skills to manage a wide range of relationships with colleagues, and patients and their families
  • emotional resilience, a calm temperament and the ability to work well under pressure
  • teamwork and the capacity to lead multidisciplinary teams
  • problem-solving and diagnostic skills
  • outstanding organisational ability and effective decision-making skills
  • first-class time and resource management for the benefit of patients
  • a high degree of manual dexterity
  • superb hand-eye co-ordination, excellent vision, and visuospatial awareness
  • physical stamina to cope with the demands of surgery

Entry requirements 

Your first step is medical school. Typically, you’ll need excellent GCSEs and three A or A* passes at A level including chemistry for a five-year undergraduate degree in medicine. Many medical schools also ask for biology and others may require maths or physics.

If you already have a degree, you could study for a four-year postgraduate degree in medicine.

You’ll need to pass an interview and admissions test. You’ll be asked to show how you demonstrate the NHS values such as compassion and respect.

Some medical schools look to recruit a mix of students from different backgrounds and geographical areas, so your educational and economic background and family circumstances could be considered as part of your application.

"An early rotation in general surgery provided me with the opportunity to help with operations. I loved the work and also enjoyed working alongside such dedicated and hard-working colleagues and decided to pursue a career in surgery."

Read Kathryn's story

What are my chances of starting a career in paediatric surgery?

In 2021, there were 205 paediatric surgeons working in the NHS in England. In addition, there were 80 applications for 12 specialty training places. 

How to become a paediatric surgeon

After medical school, you’ll join the paid two-year foundation programme where you’ll work in six placements in different settings.

After your foundation programme, you can apply for paid specialty training to become a paediatric surgeon, which will take a minimum of eight years.  

You may be able to train part time, for example for health reasons or if you have family or caring responsibilities.

Where a career as a paediatric surgeon can take you

You could:
  • specialise or conduct research in areas such as neonatal surgery, paediatric urology, and paediatric oncology
  • teach medical students or postgraduate students in training 
  • get involved in research at universities, the NHS or private sector

Other roles that may interest you

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