Surgeons consult with patients and operate on people to treat and manage disease and injuries.
Trainee surgeons usually earn
$81K-$197K per year
Experienced surgeons usually earn
$164K-$244K per year
Source: ASMA and RDA, 2022.
Pay varies for surgeons and for registrars (those in training), depending on seniority, hours, location and frequency of on-call or emergency cover.
- Registrars working for a district health board (DHB) usually earn between $81,000 and $192,000 a year. In 2023 this will increase to between $86,000 and $197,000.
- Qualified surgeons working for a DHB usually earn between $164,000 and $244,000.
- Surgeons working in the private sector may earn more than this.
Sources: Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), 'New Zealand District Health Boards Senior Medical and Dental Officers Collective Agreement, 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021'; Resident Doctors' Association, 'RDA and 20 District Health Boards Multi Employer Collective Agreement 17 March 2021 to 31 March 2024'.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Surgeons may do some or all of the following:
- examine patients and decide whether operations are needed
- consult with other medical professionals about patient care and treatment
- perform and manage operations
- instruct and manage patients' post-operative care
- check on patients' progress while they are in hospital
- keep medical records and send final reports to general practitioners
- provide follow-up care for patients
- teach medical students and trainee surgeons
- carry out research.
Skills and knowledge
Surgeons need to have:
- knowledge of anatomy and how the human body works
- surgical skills and knowledge
- knowledge of different diseases, illnesses and injuries
- knowledge of medicines and treatments and the effect these have on patients
- diagnostic skills
- up-to-date knowledge of research, treatments and practices
- knowledge of medical ethics and law.
Surgeons need to have some knowledge of other medical specialities such as oncology, radiology and pathology.
- work long and irregular hours, including evenings, nights and weekends
- work in operating theatres, hospital wards and clinics
- work in conditions that may be stressful, as they deal with seriously ill or injured patients
- travel locally to visit hospitals in their region and overseas to attend conferences.
What's the job really like?
Lisa Chung talks about life as a surgeon – 2.47 mins
but it is not as glamorous. Hi, I'm Lisa,
and I'm a general surgical registrar.
As a surgical registrar,
one of the main parts of my job is to perform surgeries on patients.
A general surgical registrar has quite a few duties,
seeing patients, consulting on them.
We are also involved in teaching junior staff and medical
students. In the mornings,
we come to the patient's room and speak to the patient about their symptoms,
how they're feeling, what their concerns are. If it's post-surgery,
we come and review the patient,
check how they're feeling and how they're recovering.
So we're now in the operating theatre block,
and in order to be in the surgery space, we need to be in scrubs.
So this is the operating theatres, come on in.
So this is where we do the minor surgeries such as small finger injury
The big operating theatre is currently being occupied for major operations.
Once we get to the operating theatre,
it takes a team that involves not only the doctors,
but nurses, orderlies,
administration staff. So some of the key skills we need as a surgeon is to be
a good team player, but also being a leader at times.
Time that I spend in surgery depends on the case.
If it's an infection such as an abscess,
that would take me just a few minutes to do the operation.
But if it was something a bit bigger,
major bowel operation or something like that, that would take several hours.
So the quickest way of becoming a surgeon is to complete med school,
which is 6 years. Then 2 years of being a house surgeon,
2 years of being a junior registrar,
and then 5 years of a senior registrar.
And that might sound terrifying when if you're only 13 or 14,
but it's like an apprenticeship. What we do, we are forever learning.
Surgery has multiple specialties within it.
We call ourselves general surgeons because historically that's what we were. But
now our roles involve specifically the bowel, the stomach,
the food pipe. There are the surgeons who deal with the heart and the lungs,
surgeons who deal with eyes, surgeons who deal with brains.
In order to get through to each of these specialties,
you make a decision early on in your career.
The subjects that you'd need to take in high school include your sciences
Medicine is full of responsibility.
Sometimes this can be quite daunting,
but you do medicine for the love of people,
and if you love something, then that's the thing you should pursue.
To become a surgeon you need to:
- complete the Health Sciences First Year programme at Otago University, or the first year of either the Bachelor of Health Sciences or Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science at Auckland University
- complete a five-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) degree at Otago or Auckland Universities
- work for several years as a supervised junior doctor in a hospital
- complete another five to seven years of specialist training and examinations to become a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
You also need to be registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand.
- University of Otago website - information about the Health Sciences First Year programme
- University of Otago website - information about the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery
- University of Auckland website - information about the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery
- Royal Australasian College of Surgeons website - information on becoming a surgeon
- Medical Council of New Zealand website - information on surgeon registration
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
NCEA Level 3 is required to enter tertiary training. Useful subjects include maths, chemistry, physics, biology and health education.
Surgeons need to be:
- accurate and careful, with an eye for detail
- motivated and disciplined
- quick and efficient
- able to work well under pressure
- able to make good decisions, and solve problems
- good time managers
- excellent at analysis and interpretation
- good at report writing
- good at communicating and inspiring confidence in others
- understanding of other cultures' attitudes to medical treatment.
I like using my hands and constructing and building things and that’s what we do. You have to be practically oriented because you’re using saws and hammers and screwdrivers and drills.
Dr Richard Keddell
Useful experience for surgeons includes:
- work in hospitals or health clinics
- work caring for people.
Surgeons need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses) and good hand-eye co-ordination. They also need to have steady hands.
Surgeons must have a good level of stamina as some surgery can take many hours.
Surgeons need to be registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand.
Find out more about training
- Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS)
- (04) 385 8247 - www.surgeons.org
- Medical Council of New Zealand
- 0800 286 801 - www.mcnz.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Number of factors contribute to shortage of surgeons
General surgeon, the largest surgical specialisation, Cardiothoracic surgeon, Neurosurgeon, Orthopaedic surgeon, Vascular surgeon and Urologist appear on Immigration New Zealand's Green List. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled surgeons from overseas to work in New Zealand.
The shortage of surgeons is due to:
- New Zealand's growing and ageing population, which means increasing demand for surgeons to perform age-related surgeries
- an ageing workforce – nearly a third of specialist doctors, including surgeons, are over 55 years old and due to retire in the next 10 years
- some surgeons moving overseas for better pay and working conditions
- a worldwide shortage of specialist doctors, which means it can be hard for New Zealand to attract surgeons from overseas to work here.
Surgeons third largest group of doctors
There are 859 registered surgeons in New Zealand, the third largest group of doctors after internal medicine specialists at 1,051 and general practitioners at 3,534, according to the Medical Council of New Zealand.
Oral and maxillofacial surgery, and plastic or reconstructive surgery are the specialisations with the largest increase in workforce numbers over the past five years.
Surgeons work for public and private hospitals
Surgeons work in public or private hospitals, or a combination of both, and may also work in university medical schools.
- District health boards employ all surgeons who work in public hospitals.
- Private hospitals usually employ surgeons on a casual basis.
- The medical schools at the Universities of Auckland and Otago employ surgeons in teaching and research roles.
- Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, ‘Taking the Temperature of the Hospital Specialist Workforce, August 2014’, accessed January 2018. (www.asms.org.nz).
- Immigration New Zealand, Green List, January 2023, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Medical Council of New Zealand registration data, 30 June 2017.
- Symmes, G, communications manager, Medical Council of New Zealand, Careers Directorate - Tertiary Education Commission interview, October 2017.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Surgeons may progress to teach students and trainee surgeons at larger hospitals. Surgeons can also become clinical directors, combining an administrative role with a surgical one.
Surgeons can specialise in a number of roles including:
- Cardiothoracic Surgeon
- Cardiothoracic surgeons treat diseases and injuries of the heart, lungs and chest wall.
- General Surgeon
- General surgeons treat diseases and injuries of the abdomen, breast and endocrine (glandular) organs.
- Neurosurgeons diagnose and treat patients with disorders of the central, peripheral and autonomic nervous system including their supportive structures and blood supply.
- Orthopaedic Surgeon
- Orthopaedic surgeons treat diseases and injuries of the bones, joints, muscles and soft tissue.
- Otolaryngologists treat diseases and injuries of the head and neck.
- Paediatric Surgeon
- Paediatric surgeons diagnose and treat children who may require surgery. This includes the management of congenital abnormalities both ante-natally and in the neonatal period and the management of major trauma in children.
- Plastic or Reconstructive Surgeon
- Plastic or reconstructive surgeons correct or restore body function or appearance for aesthetic or therapeutic reasons.
- Urologists diagnose and treat disorders of the urinary tracts in males and females, and male genital organs. It also includes the management of trauma to these organs and the management of male sterilisation, infertility and sexual dysfunction.
- Vascular surgeon
- Vascular surgeons diagnose and treat patients with disorders of the blood vessels (arteries and veins outside the heart and brain) and the lymphatic system.
Last updated 25 September 2023