What Are The Top Health Risks For Surgeons?

Needle pokes, scalpel cuts, and hearing loss are just some of the everyday risks that surgeons face in the operating room. 

Medical dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, ER, and House have conditioned TV viewers across the country to believe that an operating room is a place where only the person who has their health on the line is the one on the operating table.

In reality, surgeons are exposed to a wide array of health risks every day, even in the most sanitary and organized operating rooms.

Some risks could leave surgeons unable to work for short or long periods of time, while others can gradually take a toll on a surgeon’s mind and body in a way that could impact their ability to work at their normal levels later on in their career.

Some of the top occupational health risks that surgeons face according to a report from the International Journal of Health Sciences that all surgeons should be aware of and prepare for are:


Did you know that it has been estimated that around 400,000 sharp injuries happen each year in the U.S., with around a quarter of those being sustained by surgeons?

The report cited a study which estimated that the typical general surgeon experiences about one injury per 100 hours of operating time, or 210 injuries throughout the course of their career. This results in a 6.9% lifetime risk of contracting hepatitis C and a 0.15% lifetime risk of developing HIV.

If an injury or illness from needle stick or cut puts you on the sidelines long-term and unable to work while you recover, a true own-occupation disability insurance policy will help ensure you don’t experience a loss in income.


If you are a surgeon that works with electric and air-powered drills or saws, you understand the strain these loud tools can put on your ears. Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (dBA) can cause hearing loss.

According to a study cited in the report, noise levels of up to 118 dBA were measured in operating rooms during the use of high-speed gas turbine bone cutting drills, and suction tips which had trapped issue “whistles” inside yielded noises of up to 96 dBA.


Standing and using precision hand and wrist movements for hours at a time at the operating table are part of everyday life for surgeons. In fact, 37% of surgeons experience musculoskeletal pain compared to 20% of all physician specialties.

While younger surgeons may not have a hard time mustering up the endurance needed to perform surgeries, the physical strain can add up during a surgeon’s career and sometimes culminate in a disability that limits the number of surgeries they can perform.

 A true own-occupation disability insurance policy with a residual or partial disability rider may cover the income that surgeons would lose due to a reduced workload stemming from an injury or illness.


While long hours at the operating table can test a surgeon’s physical limits, experiences like long shifts, catastrophic events, and interactions with the families of deceased patients can take a toll on a surgeon’s mental health.

A study cited in the report found a 27% prevalence of psychiatric morbidity among 882 respondents across five specialties: gastroenterology, radiology, surgical oncology, clinical oncology, and medical oncology. A separate study found that the highest prevalence of alcohol abuse in the medical profession were found in female medical students, doctors under 40 and surgeons.


Whether the risk has an immediate or long-term impact on a surgeon’s ability to work, they can protect their income and their lifestyles with a true own-occupation disability insurance policy.

The best time for surgeons to get covered with a true own-occupation disability insurance policy is as soon as they are eligible – the start of their final year of medical school – because they are likely to get more coverage the earlier they get their policy.

If you’re interested in learning more, all you have to do is fill out Pattern’s free quote request form. From there a member of the Pattern team will show you the ins-and-outs of own-occupation disability insurance and present your options with no obligation to buy.