Transplant Surgeon  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotIt's a transplant surgeon's job to transplant or move organs from one human being to another so the recipient can live a longer, healthier life. Without vital organ transplants, patients can die -- even at young ages.

dotThese surgeons first do a general surgical evaluation, where they review previous operations and assess the risks and benefits of surgery. They consult with other members of the transplant team, which may include other physicians, nurses, social workers and other professionals.

The surgeon assesses the patient before the operation, performs the operation, then checks on the patient after the transplant is completed and the patient has been discharged.

dotThere are nationwide campaigns to get more people to donate organs, but there's still a long list of people waiting on transplant surgery lists because there are no available or suitable donors.

dotOne possible solution to the human organ shortage is to replace them with organs from another species. This is known as xenografting or xenotransplantation.

For example, in October 1984, transplant surgeons at the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California transplanted a heart from a seven-month-old baboon into a newborn human. Baby Fae lived for 20 days and eventually died from kidney failure.

One problem with animal-to-human transplantation is rejection of the organ by humans. But research continues to try to solve this problem.

dotThe process of transplant surgery is not physically involving and involves knowledge and precision rather than strength. You can't do this job if you have problems with vision that cannot be corrected by glasses, or if you are squeamish!

dotTransplant surgeons put in long days, with the average being 10 to 12 hours. "I work usually 12 hours a day," says transplant surgeon Dr. Annie Fecteau. "I'm on call one day in four for pediatric surgery, and one day out of two for transplant surgery."

Dr. Robert Michler of the Ohio State University Medical Center says his average workday begins at 6 a.m. and ends between 9 and 10 p.m. "If I'm in town, I'm available," he says. "I see patients on Saturday and try to take Sundays off. It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week that you must be available for the patients and families."

At a Glance

Transplant vital organs from one human being to another

  • Long days are the norm
  • Researchers are looking at the use of animal organs
  • Be prepared for a lot of training