What is a Consultant Surgeon?

Understanding the training and experience undertaken in order to become a Consultant Surgeon.

What is a Consultant Surgeon?

When researching your surgeons for your procedure, there are numerous factors to consider, including training and experience. It can be quite daunting and confusing to gauge the level the surgeon is working at, especially with all the titles and abbreviations used within the healthcare industry. We want to explain what exactly a consultant surgeon is so you can clearly understand the years of work that go into working at that level.

What is a Consultant Surgeon?

The medical system in the UK has different names for each level of Doctor as they progress through their training. A consultant is a senior doctor who is responsible for the care of their patients in the hospital. A patient will often have several doctors looking after them, but the consultant is in charge of other doctors and the patient’s care. The consultant will have completed a minimum of six years of training in their speciality area to gain a certificate of completion of training (CCT) and listing on the General Medical Council's specialist register.

Why is their title not Doctor (Dr)?

If they are a surgeon, the title of a consultant is Mr, Mrs, Ms, or Professor. If they are a physician (i.e. non-surgeon), then their title is doctor/Dr. All surgeons will have held the doctor title at one point in their career, but they will have chosen to train further and become surgeons, which in the title system in healthcare makes them a Mr, Mrs, Ms, or Professor.

To progress to each level, exams typically need to be completed. At every level, there will be a senior to the doctor until the doctor becomes a consultant. Once an individual becomes a consultant, they are the highest qualified doctor looking after the patient.

A consultant will have a team of doctors underneath them to help look after the patient. This team follow the consultant's instructions. The more senior the doctor is underneath the consultant, the more responsibility they have. In the NHS, a senior clinical fellow may do the patient's surgery. Privately with us, only the consultant the patient meets and discusses their surgery options in consultation operates.

patient consults with plastic surgeon

Specialities of Consultants

  • Cardiothoracic surgery
  • Urology
  • Vascular surgery
  • General surgery
  • Neurological surgery
  • Paediatrics
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery
  • ENT (Ear, nose, and throat)
  • Plastic Surgery (including Cosmetic Surgery)
  • Trauma and Orthopaedics

Within each of these, there will be further specialisation for example a Trauma and Orthopaedics consultants may subspecialise in hip surgery

Training and experience of a Consultant Surgeon

In order to reach the level of consultant surgeon, there are many years of training and standards to be met; the progression typically looks like this:

  • Completion of medical school (typically five years)
  • Followed by two years of foundation training (FT 1-2) and examination to become a member of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS)
  • A further two years of core surgical training (CT 1-2)
  • Finally, six years of speciality training (ST 1-6)
  • Once the Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) has been obtained, consultants are qualified.
  • Following six years of specialist training in their speciality, the surgeon can take the exams to join as a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS). This is a prestigious qualification and position.

In the NHS, it's common to see the level of training your doctor has received as it will often state following their name e.g. ST 6, indicating that the doctor is a very senior surgeon. With one more year of training and exams, this doctor would qualify as a consultant surgeon, the highest level.
The number of years of experience differs from speciality to speciality.

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