Ever have someone tell you he’s having surgery soon? If he doesn’t offer any details—and, of course, it’s rude to ask—you really have no idea what’s going to happen in the operating room. After all, we use the term “surgery” to mean so many procedures.
The American College of Surgeons recognizes 14 surgical specialties:
- Colon and rectal surgery
- General surgery
- Gynecologic oncology
- Neurologic surgery
- Obstetric and gynecologic surgery
- Ophthalmic surgery
- Oral and maxillofacial surgery
- Orthopaedic surgery
- Otolaryngologic surgery
- Pediatric surgery
- Plastic and maxillofacial surgery
- Thoracic surgery
- Urologic surgery
- Vascular surgery
These specialties cover everything from heart surgery (part of thoracic surgery) to cataract surgery (part of ophthalmic surgery). And as technology has transformed medicine over the past century, many of the specialties now include additional subspecialties, says Frank Lewis, M.D., executive director of the American Board of Surgery.
“The procedures that are common to a given specialty have gotten increasingly sophisticated over time, and the level of experience and training needed to perform them competently has gotten even more complicated,” Lewis says.
Read on to learn about some of the different ways to operate.
General Surgery – General surgeons are the jacks-of-all-trades of the surgical world. They take out gallbladders and appendixes. And they’re trained to handle medical conditions in most parts of the body, from the head and neck down to the feet (plus a lot of stuff in between, including the abdominal wall, skin, and gastrointestinal and vascular systems).
Otolaryngologic Surgery – This mouthful of a specialty (pronounced oh-toe-lair-in-GOLL-oh-jee) focuses on the ears, nose and throat. Otolaryngologists tend to everything from hearing loss and chronic sinusitis to swallowing disorders and diseases affecting the throat and voice box.
Orthopaedic Surgery – If you break a bone and need surgery to repair it, you’ll probably see an orthopaedic surgeon. These doctors focus on the musculoskeletal system, which includes bones, joints and muscles. The field also includes a number of special interest areas, among them foot and ankle orthopaedics, hand surgery, joint replacement, oncology, pediatric orthopaedics, spine surgery, sports medicine and trauma surgery.
Ophthalmic Surgery – Having serious eye problems? You’ll probably see an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who can perform eye surgery, treat eye and vision problems, and prescribe glasses and contacts. Optometrists, on the other hand, cannot perform surgery, although they can give vision tests and prescribe glasses, contacts and medicines for certain eye problems.
Neurologic Surgery – You probably know that neurosurgeons work on the brain. But they also tend to a number of other areas, including disorders of the spinal cord, pituitary gland and vertebral column.