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A trauma surgeon is a specialist surgeon who focuses on the diagnosis and conservative or surgical management of traumatic injuries. These injuries would be managed in an emergency situation and include those sustained in major vehicle accidents, stab and gunshot wounds and deep lacerations, usually limited around the abdominal area, as well as generalized burn wounds.
Trauma surgeons will be in charge or and work at specialised trauma units, but there are those who will also work at acute hospitals where they will be consulted to provide medical care for patients who have sustained traumatic injuries needing specialized care. Trauma surgeons will assist casualty doctors with patients who have severe traumatic injuries.
Casualty doctors will have ATLS (advanced trauma life support) credentials that allow them to initially manage some important life-threatening conditions that include a pneumothorax, cardiac tamponade, tension pneumothorax, flail chest, haemothorax and acute haemorrhage before a trauma surgeon can take over the management of the patient. These patients would therefore be stabilized and managed either non-surgically or surgically.
A doctor wanting to specialise in trauma surgery needs to complete certain training criteria. This includes completing their 5-6 year undergraduate medical degree to become a qualified doctor and completing a 1-2 year internship phase where the doctor works in various medical and surgical departments.
When these programmes are completed, the newly qualified doctor may then be allowed to specialise. The doctor will then complete a 5 year residency training programme in general surgery and carry on to train for another 2 years in a fellowship programme for trauma surgery.
Responsibilities of a Trauma Surgeon
The main responsibility of a trauma surgeon is to initially resuscitate and stabilize the patient, and later evaluate and manage them accordingly. The trauma surgeon who is in charge of the unit also leads the trauma team. This team consists of trained nursing personnel and physicians in the trauma residency programme.
Trauma surgeons are responsible for managing most injuries to the neck, chest, abdomen and extremities. These surgeons will also treat most musculoskeletal trauma by stabilizing the patient before referring them to orthopaedic surgeons, and brain trauma patients will also be initially managed before being referred to neurosurgeons if they are not immediately available.
Trauma surgeons must be familiar with various general thoracic, surgical and vascular procedures. In an emergency situation there is often very little time and incomplete information of the patient available to the trauma surgeon, and they must be able to make immediate and complex decisions. These specialist surgeons must be proficient in all aspects of intensive care medicine or critical care medicine as they may be in charge of surgical or trauma intensive care units.
Trauma surgeons are responsible for prioritizing patients presenting to trauma centres who have multiple organ system injuries. The care of these patients may require numerous diagnostic studies and procedures to be performed and the trauma surgeon will be responsible for planning the general treatment plan. This process begins as soon as the patient arrives in the casualty department, where they are triaged according to the severity of the injury sustained, and continues to the operating theatre, ICU and general ward.