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Transplant Surgeon
Transplant surgeons are medical surgeons that specialise in organ transplants in patients. They can perform surgery to transplant a heart, kidney, liver, lung, pancreas, intestines or even parts of the brain to a patient who is suffering terminal illness from a defective or damaged organ. Transplanted tissues include bones, tendons, cornea, skin, heart valves and veins.

Most transplant surgeons specialise in transplants of a specific organ and only perform surgery on that organ, but almost all transplant surgeons work in various fields of transplants before deciding on one specific field in which to practice.

When it is determined by a medical doctor that a patient needs a transplant, the patient is evaluated. Transplant candidates are placed on the transplant waiting list if they meet medical, psychological and financial requirements.

Depending on the seriousness of the condition, they may wait from one day to several years for a transplant. In cases where patients need kidney transplants, they may be put on dialysis treatment to help them until the operation can be performed.

Once a donated organ is accepted by the transplant centre, the transplant candidate is informed of the organ match. The patient is prepared for surgery and the transplant surgeons await the arrival of the organ from the donor’s hospital. An organ has to be transplanted within a few hours for the operation to be successful. The transplant operation itself takes several hours.

Transplant recipients are usually able to leave the hospital between three days and two weeks after the transplant. Because the human body attacks a newly transplanted organ, patients must be put on medications to prevent their bodies from rejecting or destroying their new organ. Most recipients live normal and active lives after transplants, however, they must take the prescribed medicines and have regular check-ups for the rest of their lives.

A very important part of a transplant surgeon’s training is how to determine whether a particular donor organ qualifies as being suitable for a successful transplant in each case. Transplant surgeons need to know corresponding blood types, nerve connections, and components of vital organs that affect other organs. Transplant surgeons learn specific techniques on the fusion of organs making them a part of the patient’s body.

The emerging field of regenerative medicine enables scientists and engineers to create organs which are grown from the patient’s own cells (stem cells, or cells extracted from the failing organs).

Satisfying Aspects
- being able to assist patients by prolonging their lives and relieving pain and suffering
- saving lives
- working as part of the medical profession in a very specialised field

Demanding aspects
- losing a patient under your care
- long hours and irregular schedule
- dealing with unpleasant sights and smells
- need to keep up to date with advances in your field

- able to handle very stressful and high pressure situations
- perform well as part of a team
- above-average communication skills
- emotionally balanced, patient and calm
- tactful, able to put patients and their families at ease
- able to make quick, sound decisions in an emergency
- manual dexterity and fine motor skills

School Subjects
National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Sciences
Recommended Subjects: Life Sciences

Note: Competition to enter medical studies is stiff and there are usually many applicants with excellent grades who naturally would be given preference.

MBChB degree at UP, UCT, UFS, Wits, US, UL, UKZN:
- Theoretical training: 6 years
- Student internship: 1 year
- Practical work at a hospital: 1 year (also known as the house doctor year).

Postgraduate study for specialisation as a surgeon: 4 years at e.g. UP, UFS, US, UL, UKZN, Wits:
MMed or FCP(SA): 4 years. Transplant surgeons generally specialise in particular organs of the body.

Additional Requirements: before commencing postgraduate study for specialisation as a transplant surgeon, the candidate must:

- be in possession of a MBChB degree for 2 years
- be registered as a medical doctor with the Interim Medical and Dental Council (IMDC) of South Africa for 1 year.

Registration: on successful completion of the examination to qualify as a specialist, the candidate must register with the IMDC as a transplant surgeon.

- medical schools
- general and private hospitals
- clinics
- research institutions
- private practice

South African Transplantation Society
University of Stellenbosch
Western Cape
P O Box 782243
Sandton, 2146
Tel: (021) 938-5791

Organ Donor Foundation
Tel: 0800 226611

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)
P O Box 205
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 338-9300 Fax: (012) 328-5120