Plastic surgeons are sleaze balls, neurosurgeons have massive egos, and orthopedic surgeons are dumb bros. Unless you’ve gone through medical school, you probably believe these stereotypes and have a distorted perception of the personality types of each surgical specialty. Some stereotypes hold some truth, but most are false. This is the truth about each surgical specialty.
When you’re done here, check out our companion article: Doctor Stereotypes for Non-Surgical Specialties. It covers internal medicine, family medicine, anesthesiology, pathology, and more.
Going through medical school, I recall being surprised on multiple occasions how the stereotypes of certain specialties differed from reality. I have cross-referenced this list and received input from several physician colleagues to make this article as accurate as possible, but bear in mind this is our opinion, and if your experiences differ, let me know down in the comments.
How do you know if there is a neurosurgeon in the room? Easy. They’ll have already told you. The stereotype of neurosurgeons is that they have a massive god complex, they’re hugely egotistical, and neurosurgery is incredibly delicate and nuanced.
All three of these are mostly false. Sure, you’re bound to find egotistical personalities in any specialty, but I wouldn’t place neurosurgery higher on the list than any other surgical specialty—the level of ego seems quite comparable between them.
The true stereotype is that neurosurgeons are some of the hardest working people in the hospital. They work the most challenging and demanding hours, and their lifestyle is nothing to be envious of. As the saying goes, neurosurgeons make the most money, but have no time to spend it.
Neurosurgeons have some of the most hilarious and dynamic personalities of any specialty. It makes perfect sense. Neurosurgery patients have terrible outcomes—think about it, do healthy people ever need brain surgery?
To deal with such tragedy on a regular basis and stay sane, healthy coping mechanisms are a must. Healthy defense mechanisms include altruism, sublimation, anticipation, and humor. Some of the funniest personalities I came across in medicine were on my neurosurgery rotation.
Surprisingly, neurosurgery is not nearly as nuanced or meticulous as most people think. This is actually a big reason I opted for plastic surgery instead. I go over how I decided between neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, and plastic surgery on my YouTube channel.
When removing a brain tumor, there often isn’t a super clear cut demarcation between tumor and healthy tissue. In spine surgery, there’s a lot of elbow grease and less precision than you would think. While certain aspects are highly meticulous, as a whole, I was surprised how crude neurosurgery could be.
Speaking of crude, this is when most people think of orthopedic surgery. When you think ortho, you probably think of bros, bench presses, and no medical management skills. And that’s… well… mostly true (kidding!) But within orthopedic surgery, there are some much more nuanced sub-specializations, like the hand, that require more precision and elegance.
It’s not all bros either. While the specialty is dominated by men, many of whom have an affinity for picking up heavy things and putting them back down, I’ve come across several phenomenal female orthopedic surgeons. Just because they don’t bench as much doesn’t mean they can’t impress you with their strength—leverage and torque for the win.
In terms of medical management skills, or lack thereof, I’ve heard tales about how orthopedic surgeons forgot basic management or even what a hemoglobin A1c is. I have not seen this myself, but I can’t say plastic surgeons would be much better.
When people think of plastic surgery, they think cosmetics—nose jobs, breast implants, things like that. While aesthetics is a sizable portion of plastic surgery, there’s so much more to it than that. Within plastic surgery, there’s craniofacial, where you fix things like cleft lip and cleft palate, or hand, which is what I was initially focused on, or microsurgery, where you move tissues around the body and reconnect blood vessels or nerves with microscopes. Face transplants, hand transplants, complex reconstructions—it’s the closest thing medicine has to science fiction.
In terms of personality, most people think of plastic surgeons as slimy or money-minded. As the joke goes, you can hide $100 from a neurosurgeon by giving it to his kid, hide $100 from a hospitalist by putting it under the dressing, but you can’t hide $100 from a plastic surgeon. Sure, plastic surgery attracts some with those priorities, but many pursue plastics for reconstruction, which doesn’t actually pay very well, relatively speaking.
Plastic surgeons tend to be more neurotic and have obsessive compulsive tendencies, which makes sense since it’s such a meticulous field. While they’re a cool group of people, they’re no neurosurgeons or urologists.
Urology is the specialty focusing on the male reproductive system. If you like dick jokes, these are your people. I don’t really have that much more to say about them.
Ob/Gyn stands for Obstetrics and Gynecology. Obstetrics focuses on pregnancy and delivering babies, and gynecology is to women what urology is to men. The stereotype I’ve heard is that Ob/Gyn isn’t real surgery or that they are a miserable group of people.
Look, cesarean sections aren’t quite surgery in the same sense that urology, plastic surgery, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, general surgery, or any other type of surgery are to… well, surgery. Cesarean sections are quite crude; closure techniques are not conducive to favorable scarring, and it’s a bloody battlefield in there. On multiple occasions, I was concerned I would get stuck by a flying needle or scalpel.
But just because obstetrics is like that doesn’t mean gynecology isn’t real surgery. During my time on Ob/Gyn, I was lucky to see some awesome laparoscopic cases.
And regarding the stereotype of Ob/Gyn docs being miserable, I don’t think that’s true. I think they’re a very nice group of people; they’re just sleep deprived because of a very challenging and unpredictable lifestyle.
Several decades ago, prior to the sub-specialization of various types of surgery, general surgery was quite broad. Since then, general surgery has mostly focused on surgical interventions of the gastrointestinal and endocrine systems.
For this reason, I’ve heard a couple damaging stereotypes of this specialty.
- First, because general surgery is compensated less than other specialties, it’s the easiest surgical specialty to get into. It also deals with a lot more nausea-inducing pathologies; I’ve heard other medical students or doctors suggest that general surgery is for people who couldn’t get into a more competitive and “better” surgical specialty.
- Second, given the often malignant culture and challenging lifestyle, general surgeons are known as masochists, meaning they love pain and suffering.
Do some applicants opt for general surgery because it’s less competitive? Sure, but many also pursue general surgery because they are undecided on a surgical subspecialty or because general surgery is an avenue through which you train for other surgical subspecialties, like cardiothoracic or vascular surgery.
Second, apart from neurosurgeons, general surgeons are some of the most medically-inclined, as they are taking care of sick patients in the SICU, whereas their plastic surgery and orthopedic surgery colleagues usually aren’t involved in as much medical management. While the average general surgeon may not have the nuance and precision in the operating room compared to a plastic surgeon, I consider it impressive to both operate and manage challenging medical issues.
In terms of personality, a consistent theme I’ve seen amongst many general surgeons is being a thrill seeker or quite adventurous.
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