What is a General Surgeon?

To look at it simply, a General Surgeon is a fully trained Surgeon (Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons) who hasn’t taken up a subspecialty. At least, that’s how it worked in the old days…

Now, being a General Surgeon means that training was in the discipline of General Surgery. What does this include? The common things are hernias, gallstones, bowel surgery, simple liver surgery, haemorrhoids, ingrown toenails, vasectomy and various skin lumps and bumps.

But it isn’t that simple. (Was that simple, I hear you ask? No, I agree – it isn’t). Within General Surgery are some subspecialties – Colorectal Surgeons, Breast and Endocrine Surgeons, Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeons, Bariatric Surgeons are all types of General Surgeon. If you have a simple, common problem in one of those subspecialties, most general surgeons will be happy to help you. But if your problem is more involved, you will be best served by someone with extra training in the particular area.

There are other surgical specialties which are not covered by General Surgery at all anymore – Urology (prostates, bladders, continence problems), Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Ear Nose and Throat Surgery are all separate specialties with very little in common with a General Surgeon. Occasionally, individuals will cross over the borders (I know a General Surgeon who does some Cosmetic Surgery, but most of us don’t).

So, what kind of surgeon am I? 

My passion is for laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery. I love to take out gallbladders that have harboured irritating stones, repair hernias that ache or are growing, stop reflux and heartburn in their tracks, and help people to change their lifestyle to eat less food without feeling as if they are starving all the time. I also quite enjoy fixing ingrown toenails – because they give such pain when they are bad, and it is so rewarding when they are fixed. However, there are many other practitioners (family doctors and podiatrists) who do a good job with these, too.

Because I am a woman, I do see people (mostly women) who are worried that their haemorrhoids are dangerous, or are suffering with the pain of a chronic anal fissure. But this is not something I have any special skill for. Sometimes those women have been struggling along for decades with the problem because they don’t want to see a male surgeon. But if the problem is outside my training and ability, I refer them on to one of my trusted colleagues with more experience, and up-to-date knowledge.

There are plenty of good female breast surgeons in town, and because they see so many patients with similar problems, they have excellent support services all set up around them to get a diagnosis quickly, and treat it with the most up-to-date therapy. I don’t have those networks established, because this is not my main focus. If you have a breast lump you are worried about, please go and see a specialist breast surgeon.

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