If you’ve learnt again and again that surgeons earn really well and that the job outlook for surgeons remains promising, you might be willing to become a surgeon.

With surgical residency being an indispensable step in becoming a surgeon, you might also want to know how much money you can make during your years of residency.

Helpfully in this post, you’ll find out the average annual salary of surgical residents. Among other contents of the post, you’ll also learn about the factors that influence salary variations among surgical residents.

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Who Is a Surgical Resident?

How I matched into a general surgery residency - The DO

A surgical resident may be described as a medical degree holder undergoing surgical residency –the specialized training that prepares one for the position of a full surgeon.

While surgical residency marks a very critical period in the transition to surgical practice, it offers surgical residents the opportunity to earn salaries. However, the average salary of the surgical resident isn’t up to half of what the full surgeon earns.

Surgical residents come under three categories namely chief residents, senior residents, and junior residents. While chief residents are superior to the two other categories, the chief resident is described as one observing their final year of residency training.

Unlike the two other categories, the chief resident seems to hold greater responsibility and as such, they may be required to guide junior residents. Also in terms of decision-making, chief residents are considerably superior to senior residents and junior residents.

As a surgical resident in their first year, i.e. a junior resident, you seem to have lesser responsibility compared to those in the second or higher year. What this means is that the more you advance in residency training, the greater the responsibility you’ll have to bear.

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How Long Does It Take to Complete Surgical Residency?

Surgical residency is a training program that you undergo during the transition period from medical school to surgical practice. What this means, in other words, is that after graduating from medical school, you need to first train as a surgeon before you can become a full surgeon.

Your period of training is regarded as surgical residency during which you’re placed under surgical training and supervised by an attending (full) surgeon. To complete this training, you can expect to spend between 5 and 8 years, perhaps depending on your surgical speciality and the institution where you’re observing the residency.

During the surgical residency, residents in their first year are not yet considered surgical residents. While these first-year residents are regarded as interns, they have to wait till their second year of residency before they can bear the name “surgical residents”.

Salaries of Surgical Residents

As per the reliable salary figures reported about surgical residents, it’s noteworthy that some surgical specialities attract higher figures than certain others. For example, the average annual salary of specialized surgery residents stands at $65,700 while that of plastic surgery and aesthetic medicine residents is estimated at $65,600.

There are other specialities of surgical residents –such as general surgery residents and orthopaedic surgery residents –with lower average annual salaries. While the average annual salary of general surgery residents stands at $61,000, orthopaedic surgery residents averagely earn an annual salary of $60,700.

What factors influence surgical residents’ salaries?

Several factors influence the salaries of surgical residents, but the two most prominent factors are experience and location. One of the other factors is a surgical speciality, and as mentioned earlier, surgical residents in some specialities earn above counterparts in certain other specialities.

Your level in surgical residency defines your experience. Since experience constitutes the major factor influencing the salaries of surgical residents, it’s justifiable that a chief (surgical) resident earns more than a junior (surgical) resident. As you move upward the ladder in surgical residency –i.e. as you grow in level –so does your salary increase.

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This is why your sixth-year salary in surgical residency might exceed your first-year salary by more than $10,000. For instance, if you earn an averagely of $55,200 in your first year of residency, your annual salary might rise to as much as $67,800 in your sixth year. This would clearly spell a $12,600 difference in salary between your first year and your sixth year.

A particular year-by-year salary report by Medscape revealed that a resident’s average salary figures over a six-year period were as follows: $55,200 (First Year); $57,100 (Second Year); $60,100 (Third Year); $62,400 (Fourth Year); $65,200 (Fifth Year), and $67,800 (Sixth Year).

Where location is a noticeable cause of variation in surgical residents’ salaries, it’s worth noting that while in cities with high costs of living, surgical residents would earn more compared to when in cities with low costs of living. Some of the cities where costs of living are considerably high include Miami and Boston.

If you’re in Memphis, Omaha or any other city known for a comparatively low cost of living, you shouldn’t expect your surgical residency salary to be as high as that of a counterpart in one of the cities with high costs of living.

Responsibilities of Surgical Residents

For the most part, surgical residents act as surgical assistants to the full surgeons under which they are learning. In discharging their responsibilities, surgical residents may perform various tasks such as recording patients’ medical histories, getting the patients ready for surgery, completing physical examinations and acting as surgical assistants during operations.

The responsibilities of surgical residents extend to ‘scut work’ which is the technical term for the nonmedical work performed by surgical residents. In a medical institution, scut work can be carried out by non-medical staff –perhaps workers without any medical degrees. But if there aren’t sufficient non-medical personnel for scut work, the institution may charge its surgical residents to handle the scut work.


With scut work regarded as nonmedical work, parts of the scut work a medical institution may assign its surgical residents are as follows: (i) Interacting with patients and their families, (ii) Drawing stat labs, (iii) Putting in nurses’ orders.

To facilitate their acquisition of advanced surgical skills, surgical residents are allowed to use a skills lab for the constant practice of procedures. With the help of this, the surgical residents learn to perfect their hands-on skills in preparation for post-residency live operations.

Do Surgical Residents Receive Special Benefits?

Aside from the indispensable years of training, it guarantees, surgical residency is a great opportunity for you to earn while learning. The salary figures we earlier quoted about various surgical resident specialities clearly testify that surgical residency does come with an attractive salary.

If you ever thought an attractive salary was the only benefit you’d derive from serving as a surgical resident, you might need to have a rethink. Quite interestingly, many, if not most, employers dole out other benefits to their surgical residents. According to findings, some of these benefits are as follows: health insurance, book allowance, housing allowance, meal allowance, childcare, commuter assistance, travel allowance, and exam and licensing fees.


Although they don’t earn as much (money) as full surgeons do, surgical residents are better remunerated than all categories of average medical residents. Even as various factors influence a surgical resident’s eventual salary, the average surgical resident earns slightly better than their medical resident counterpart.

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