What Does a General Surgeon Do?


A hernia occurs when tissue abnormally protrudes through a muscle or membrane. Hernias are classified as inguinal, umbilical, incisional and hiatal. Hernia repairs are some of the most common procedures performed by general surgeons. The length of time required to repair a hernia varies depending on the size of the hernia and the tissues involved. Typically, a general surgeon can repair a straightforward umbilical hernia in approximately one hour while incisional hernia repair can require up to several hours.

Stomach, Small Bowel and Colon

Cancer, obstruction and inflammatory processes (Crohn's disease, colitis and diverticulitis) cause stomach, small bowel and colon dysfunction. A large component of a general surgery practice involves removing parts of the stomach, small bowel and colon due to these diseases. Occasionally, an entire organ may be removed. In addition to surgically removing diseased tissue or organs, general surgeons must reconnect the digestive system's component parts to achieve as near normal function as possible. This requires a comprehensive understanding of anatomy and physiology.


Pancreatic cancer, cysts and pancreatitis cause pancreatic dysfunction and often require surgery. Pancreatic surgical procedures are among the most complex general surgery procedures. For example, the "Whipple procedure" is used to remove pancreatic cancer. A general surgeon removes parts of the pancreas, small intestine, bile duct and sometimes stomach. To reconstruct the digestive system, the remaining portions of the stomach, small intestine and pancreas are reattached. A tube inserted into the small intestine provides nutrition during healing, and the patient remains in the hospital for at least two weeks.

Skin and Soft Tissue

General surgeons perform a wide range of procedures involving the skin and soft tissue. General surgeons remove breast cancer, sarcomas, melanomas, lipomas and cysts. They also incise and drain abscesses, which can range from two to over 10 centimeters in length.

Minimally Invasive Surgery

General surgery has evolved to include a newer, minimally invasive approach in addition to the traditional "open" procedures. Minimally invasive procedures, also called laparoscopic procedures, use multiple small incisions instead of one large "open" incision. Surgical instruments and small cameras are inserted into the incisions. The cameras enable the general surgeon to view the internal structures on a monitor and perform the surgery without making a large incision.


General surgeons must complete medical school and a five-year general surgery residency, and the surgeon must pass a board-certification examination in general surgery. General surgeons can also sub-specialize in a variety of areas, including breast, trauma, colorectal, transplants, vascular and endocrine surgery. To specialize, the surgeon must complete additional sub-specialty training and pass a board-certification examination in the sub-specialty. A general surgeon is a surgeon who operates primarily on the torso region. General surgeons operate on the large and small intestines, stomach, esophagus, liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas and thyroid gland. In addition to performing surgical procedures, general surgeons also provide post-operative hospital care to their patients. Here is an overview of common surgical procedures performed by general surgeons.