Transplant surgeons specialize in replacing dysfunctional organs by surgically transplanting an organ from a donor in order to improve, save or extend a patient's life.

Preparing for your Transplant Surgery

About Transplant Surgery

Transplant surgery is a surgical specialty that performs organ transplants from live or deceased donors to recipients in need of a fully functioning organ. Organs that may be transplanted successfully include the heart, pancreas, liver, lungs and kidneys, among others. Single organs may be transplanted, or in more complex situations, multi-organ transplants can be performed. Aside from organs, these surgeons may also perform surgeries to transplant eye tissue (cornea), skin, bones, tendons, ligaments, bowels, veins and heart valves, among others.

Transplant surgeons are highly trained physicians who perform transplants for a host of different reasons. The most obvious reason, organ failure, requires the transplant of an organ to extend the life of the recipient. When a tumor or infection destroys or weakens bones, transplant surgeons are capable of transplanting healthy donor bone to save limbs that would otherwise require amputation. To decrease healing time in severe burn victims, surgeons are able to transplant healthy, donor skin to the affected areas of the victim’s body. Infants are also in need of transplants; at times, infants with defective heart valves or bowels may receive transplants to save their lives or increase quality of life as they age.

Patients undergoing transplant surgery may receive donor organs from either deceased or living donors. In the case of living donors, certain restrictions apply: the donor must be in a good state of health and be physically active, and must not suffer from any diseases. Deceased donors generally provide organs through permission of the deceased’s kin or by filling an organ donor card.

Transplant Surgery Education & Training

The education and training received by a transplant surgeon is demanding and extensive. The education begins after high school with the completion of a four year undergraduate degree focused on math and/or the sciences. After completing a bachelor’s degree, the student must be awarded a four year MD or DO degree from an accredited medical school. During medical school, the student is trained in basic medical care in both classroom and clinical settings. After completing medical school, the student must complete a residency program in general surgery.

Residencies in general surgery typically last five years and consist of a curriculum of clinical rotations in a wide range of surgical disciplines. The physician is trained in the various caveats of surgery including vascular operations, complex general surgical oncology, critical care and trauma management, transplant surgery, hand surgery and pediatric surgery, among other areas. Residents in general surgery are also exposed to daily interaction with patients, improving their communication and related skills.

Following completion of the residency program, the physician must then complete up to three years of fellowship training in transplant surgery. Fellows are trained and educated in all areas of transplant surgery with an emphasis on the physiology, immunology, pathology and anatomy specifically relating to diagnoses and treatments of the final stages of organ diseases and failure. The surgeon will receive specialized training in the surgical transplantation of organs, and any interrelated procedures that may be necessary when completing a successful transplant. Physicians are exposed to operations such as liver and kidney transplants, which are two of the most common in the discipline. Most transplant surgeons specialize in the transplantation of one organ, such as a heart or liver transplant surgeon; however, some surgeons may be classified as “multi-organ” transplant surgeons. After completing fellowship training, the surgeon will typically seek board certification before practicing.