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).

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

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

What to Study

MBChB degree at UP, UCT, UFS, Wits, US, UL, UKZN:

  • Theoretical training: 6 years
  • Student internship: 1 year
  • Internship: 2 years
  • Community Service: 1 year at an approved medical faculty.

Registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is mandatory for this occupation. Registration as an Independent Medical Practitioner with the HPCSA will only be permitted once all the necessary criteria have been met.

Specialisation in Surgery.

To specialise in this area, a number of years of post-graduate study will be required.
Consult the HPCSA website for the most up-to-date information relating to this area of specialization. This information can be found in the various sections under the Professional Board for Medical and Dental (and medical science) professionals.
Refer to the medical faculty of the relevant university for additional information.


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

Further Information

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

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)
P O Box 205
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 338-9301 Fax: (012) 328-5120

Organ Donor Foundation
Tel: 0800 226611

Getting Started

  • read as much as possible about transplants
  • do volunteer or part-time work at local hospitals
  • do a first-aid course with St John’s Ambulance Foundation

Programmes by Study Institutions

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