If you believe that surgery is the best medical specialty, then do you know how many surgeons won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine?

I do not want to be in any medical specialty related to surgery. I always thought how surgery depends more on skill than knowledge, more on working than studying, and more on short-term than long-term lasting solutions. So what if a new heart is transplanted to a patient?  A new kidney? Wouldn’t it be much better if research was done to prevent damage to these organs in the first place? Wouldn’t it be much better to invent drugs that prevent hardening in the blood vessels (atherosclerosis) and eventual heart damage than to do a surgery to transplant new blood vessels to the heart (CABG)?

Moreover, many individuals frown against me when I tell them that I am not considering a specialty in surgery. The opinion of almost all whom I talked to could be summarized in that being a doctor is associated with being a surgeon. If you are not a surgeon, it is OK. But your respect is not as much as that of a surgeon. One person summarized it in the following example: “If doctors of different specialties entered into a gathering, then people would firstly greet the surgeons”.

For many years, I couldn’t prove my point of view about surgery. However, lately, it came to me in an epiphany to count the number of surgeons who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology. Immediately, some persons might argue that this is not a measure of how good or bad surgery is. I partially agree with such an opinion. However, I will take the number of winners as an indicator not as a measure. That is to say, you can safely assume that a student who gets an average of 90% in high school is much more intelligent than a student who got 60%. However, it would be very unfair to say that he is better than a student of closer average like 85%.

The holders of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine are mentioned in this official page. From 1901 till 2011, the prize has been awarded 102 times to 199 individuals. Unfortunately, the page doesn’t mention the specialty of the holders. Therefore, the only way that I could think of was to read a wikipidia page called “Lists of Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine” which mentions the “rationale” for giving the Nobel Prize to each of its winners.  From this rationale, one can deduce the specialty of the winners. Or at least, if someone is to argue, whether the prize was given for an achievement related to surgery.

Before giving the number of surgeons, it is worth mentioning the interesting fact about the number of female winners of the prize. Out of the total 199 winners from 1901 to 2011, the number of female winners is “10”.

The number of surgeon winners as evident by the rationale of giving the prize is not 100 (50.3%), or 50 (25.1%), it is only 2 (1.0%) [See the table below].

Therefore, can I safely conclude that surgeons haven’t made contributions to mankind significant enough so that only 1.0% of them were awarded the Nobel Prize?

A friend of mine aspiring to be a surgeon said, “But surgeons have a significant effect on the lives of many people”.  I answered, “I agree with you. However, non-surgeons had a significant effect on not only the lives of many people, but on all the lives of humanity”.

For those aspiring to be surgeons, it is true that I have mentioned all of the above, but I encourage you to continue in your quest only because surgeons make a lot of money and are respected more in our society. In addition, studying for surgery is easier than studying for internal medicine and most other specialties because, again, it depends mainly on skill and work.

The two surgeons who won the Nobel Prize:

1909 Emil Theodor Kocher Switzerland “for his work on the physiology, pathology and surgery of the thyroid gland[17]
912 Alexis Carrel France “[for] his work on vascular suture and the transplantation of blood vessels and organs[20]

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