How Do Surgeons Practice

How Do Surgeons Practice
Healthcare professionals during a meeting at the hospital - High angle view

As the patient was under general anesthetic – having undergone carpal tunnel surgery – they didn’t have to put up with my hopeless pacing. Not to mention my nervous trembling!

how do med students practice surgery? (Try-At-Home Examples!)

You might already know that med students aren’t allowed to do most of the stuff that qualified doctors get to do. As a patient, you’re probably thankful for that!

So, how do medical students practice surgery?

Students mainly practice with their own surgical training kits and tutorials. Techniques can be improved via practice using silicon mats or pads, fruits and even pigs feet. From there, students then train, under supervision, in the operating rooms on surgery rotations doing very small and minor procedures.

It’s never the case that they learn just by diving in!

In this article we’ll look at exactly how this works. We’ll cover:

  • How you can improve your surgical skills
  • How you can master suturing (a key surgical skill)
  • What it’s like practicing on fruit and pig’s feet

Ready to learn more? Let’s go!

Graduating from student to surgeon

Surgeons, like all specialised doctors, first start out as medical students.

Over time, and with increased exposure to things like cadaver dissections etc., they then might begin to develop the idea of going into surgery. And dream of one day operating on humans!

How do students practice and get a taste of what’s required for the job beforehand?

Here’s how it mainly works:

  1. Researching surgical techniques
  2. Buying and practicing with a basic surgery kit
  3. Finding something as close to human flesh to fiddle with!

It’s really quite simple…

How to Improve Surgical Skills

The main mantra those inside medicine hear all the time is; “see one, do one, teach one”.

At its essence? This is exactly how people (med students included) improve their surgical skills.

The first step involves seeking out instruction.

Traditionally, as you’ll see reading how the great surgeons learn (check out David Nott’s War Surgeon on my recommendation page), most of this used to happen through books. But now it happens more through video.

The YouTube channel MDprospect, for example, is a great place to start.

Here is the first video in a four-part series on basic surgical techniques for medical students…

This series also highlights the main areas to get started on as someone interested in picking up the ropes; suturing and knot-tying.

Learn what surgical tools you need

Before you get started here though it’s first a good idea to familiarise yourself with the common surgical tools.

That way you’ll know exactly which of the instruments books or videos like this are referencing. That’s important if you’re looking to progress fast!

This video from Surgical Tech explains what these major instruments are. As well as when they’re likely to be used.

Keep practicing (duh!)

Aside from these starting points the next best way to improve is to practice.

Follow these free courses and tutorials. Then practice with your own set of instruments on objects that are easily accessible (and ethically sound).

A little bit of practice each week is sufficient starting out!

How to Improve Suturing Skills

The first time I ever tried suturing was actually on a live patient under the supervision of an orthopedic surgeon (specializing in hands) in the UK.

As the patient was under general anesthetic – having undergone carpal tunnel surgery – they didn’t have to put up with my hopeless pacing. Not to mention my nervous trembling!

But I do wish I’d done the following beforehand…

Watch videos on how to close wounds

Improving your suturing is one of the more fundamental ways to improve your general surgical skills and get good fast.

Closing a wound is something all surgeons must be skilled at. So taking the time to master it while in med school can really be of benefit. Especially as it’s easy to practice too.

The best way to learn is by following instructional video guides.

Buck Parker has a good series showing just this. Here’s the first in the series which drives home the main points; forceps finger placement, hand positioning, action, etc.

Notice how he advocates using your own suture kit, thread and practice silicon pad?

You can pick each of these up on Amazon quite inexpensively.

Here’s a link to the set I personally own that’s pretty much identical to that used in the video.

How to Practice Surgery Skills on Fruit

Soft fruits like bananas and oranges are surprisingly good objects to practice suturing and knot-tying with. They’re also inexpensive too.

How to suture on orange

Here’s a video showing you how can you go about doing this after making a couple of incisions on an orange.

Dr. Chris also explains the purpose of suturing in wound repair too, simulating as if he’s working on a living, breathing patient!

Notice how Dr. Chris gives lots of practical surgical tips here?

Knot-tying techniques like stick tying are super useful and quick to learn.

How to suture a banana

Likewise, here’s a shorter video on how it can work on a banana.

The purpose of using fruits is that they are tough but pliable enough to take a needle and a thread while enabling you to practice correct hand placement, wrist rotation, and instrument use, etc.

They’re a great (and cheaper) alternative to the silicon suture practice pads mentioned before.

Using Pigs Feet for Suturing

Pigs feet can be picked up at local butchers or supermarket counters and also make for great surgical training apparatus.

Unlike fruits and practice pads, they’re a bit closer to real-life surgery.

Using them to practice obviously has a couple of downsides though.

  1. They’re more expensive than a piece of fruit
  2. Depending where you stand ethically, they could be argued to be quite unnecessary!

There’s also the issue of the smell once you’re done practicing.

Anyway, to understand what I’m talking about here’s a video showing how this can work…

See how the suturing technique explained is basically the same as those in the instructional videos before?

The basic process is the same; give or take a couple of personal flourishes!


Practicing surgery techniques doesn’t need to be complicated. You can start at any stage of your education.

All you need is a needle, holder, forceps, and thread. As well as something to cut and suture that’s not a real patient.

Give it a go today!

If you enjoyed this article you mind find the following a good read:

How do Doctors Learn How to Perform Surgery?

A surgeon is a type of medical doctor who specializes in treating illness and injury through operating on the patient. Surgery can be relatively minor, such as making stitches to bind together a small wound, or extremely major, such as opening a patient to replace an essential organ.

The path doctors take to learn how to perform surgery is not an easy one. It requires many thousands of hours of intense study and practice before being declared ready to perform on a live, human being. The mean time to becoming a surgeon, after completion of a high-school education, is approximately twelve years.

Surgeons are doctors who perform operations on a patient to treat illness or injury.

The normal path to becoming a surgeon begins with an undergraduate education focusing on the biological sciences. Undergraduates pursuing medical school take a number of biology and physiology classes, as well as organic chemistry and basic physics. Students who are aware they want to learn how to perform surgery, often take electives focusing in depth on anatomy. Volunteer work is usually undertaken in free time, and internships may be pursued during the summer term. In this way a potential surgeon becomes acquainted with the hospital environment, even before beginning graduate school, ensuring they will have less to adjust to once they begin their studies in earnest.

A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used for performing surgeries.

Graduate schools in medicine are highly competitive in the United States and most European countries, with those who want to learn how to perform surgery being one of the most sought after specialties in this already crowded arena. In the United States medical schools require standardized test scores from the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test).

For people that desire to become a surgeon, the path is a challenging but rewarding one.

For the first two years, medical students spend most of their time in classes similar to their undergraduate education, though more challenging. In addition to delving deeper into subjects they have already begun studying, they also begin learning procedural information, such as how to take case histories and make diagnoses. Most schools also offer opportunities for students with a surgical focus to operate on human cadavers in order to gain a better understanding of the surgical process.

All surgeries involve at least some risks, in part because of possible infection or slow healing.

The last two years of medical school consist of a method of teaching more like an apprenticeship than a standard classroom environment. Students work with actual patients, while being observed by experienced surgeons, to gain firsthand experience in the field. In addition to their area of focus, medical students are required to rotate through other fields, such as pediatrics, internal medicine, and obstetrics, to gain a more holistic feel for the medical world they will be working within.

Surgical procedures may range from stitching up small wounds to replacing a major organ in the body.

After medical school the doctor enters into a residency. During their residency the doctor is paid, and works in an actual hospital, operating on actual patients. They are under the close supervision of directors, who observe their work, and this time is used to further hone the skill sets they have gained during their formal education. Finally, all the hard work spent to learn how to perform surgery pays off.

Becoming a surgeon typically takes over 10 years of schooling.

Residencies can last anywhere from two to six years, and upon completion the surgeon is ready to strike out on their own, either as a full surgeon at the hospital they served their residence in, or in a different practice. For those that desire to become a surgeon, the path is a challenging but rewarding one.

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Surgeons and doctors in general are life changers to me, because of the many lives they influence positively with their skill set. Even though they sometimes are not perfect, I am glad there are so many around and I personally and strongly desire to become one of the best, if not the best. calpat February 19, 2011

I think it’s great that doctors have to go through a residency before becoming full-fledged surgeons. I don’t think there is any better way to learn something like that than through a hands on process.

At them same time, I think I would be a little nervous to know that a resident was performing surgery on me. I know they have to learn. And, like I said, it’s a great way to learn. However, I would rather that a surgeon was not learning on me. reader888 February 16, 2011

I’m surprised that surgery is such a sought after field. I’ve never had any desire to learn surgery. In fact, I couldn’t imagine having to do something like that.

But I guess it’s a good thing that there are so many people interested in it. I’ve never had surgery. But, if I ever do, I’m happy to know that there are so many surgeons out there. upnorth31 February 15, 2011

It sounds like a long, painstaking process to become a surgeon. Although, I’m extremely glad that’s the case. I have to have knee surgery soon, and I feel much better about having it knowing that the person who will be operating on me has gone through such long and extensive training.

Maddie Otto

By Maddie Otto

Maddie is a second-year medical student at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney and one of Level Medicine’s workshop project managers. Prior to studying medicine, she worked and studied as a musician in Melbourne. She has a background in community arts, which combined her love for both the arts and disability support. She is an advocate for intersectional gender equity, and is passionate about accessibility and inclusive practice within the healthcare system.