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Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Education and Training: Medical school, general surgery and cardiothoracic residency
Average Salary: $225,390 per year
Job Outlook: Fair

Cardiothoracic surgeons specialize in the surgical treatment of conditions in the chest area, including the heart, primary blood vessels, lungs and esophagus.

Cardiothoracic surgeons perform operations in a sterile operating room with specialized instruments and equipment with the aid of a team while the patient is under anesthesia. Some examples of operations a cardiothoracic surgeon may perform include: installing a heart assistance device to regulate the patient’s heartbeat, performing an artery graft to avoid blood blockages, and removing tumors in the chest area. Depending on the particular surgery the cardiothoracic surgeon is to perform, it may be an invasive or a minimally invasive procedure.

Cardiothoracic surgeons do more than perform surgeries, however. They also examine patients before and after surgery, in addition to doing tests on and diagnosing patients to determine the cause or the extent of their conditions.

Due to the nature of the job, cardiothoracic surgeons must be able to think on their feet, perform well under pressure, have a good bedside manner and keep up with the latest research and techniques.

Education and Training Requirements

Aspiring cardiothoracic surgeons are required to first complete at least three years of college with courses in subjects such as chemistry, organic chemistry, biology and physics. However, a bachelor’s degree is recommended, especially in a medical-related field such as biology, physiology or psychology. They must then successfully take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Candidates must then complete four years of medical school. The first two years are spent in intensive classroom study while the next two are spent working with patients under experienced medical supervision.

After medical school, approximately six to eight years of post-graduate residency is required to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. This can be a general surgical residency followed by a cardiothoracic residency, or else an integrated cardiothoracic residency. Cardiothoracic residents study, train and treat patients during clinical rotations while progressively gaining more responsibility and autonomy.

However, even after they get the job, cardiothoracic surgeons must still make an effort to keep up with new research and techniques in order to give their patients the best care possible.

Getting the Job

Aspiring cardiothoracic surgeons must first complete medical school and their general and cardiothoracic residencies. They can then apply for job vacancies at hospitals and clinics throughout the United States; however, there are typically more applicants than jobs available. Networking while you are still a resident and being willing to relocate may help you secure a job.

Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

Cardiothoracic surgeons spend many years training for their career and once employed, they are very well paid. In addition, heart disease is very widespread and a major cause of death in the United States, making cardiothoracic surgery quite important; however, newer methods require the employment of fewer cardiothoracic surgeons than before. The cardiothoracic surgeons retiring each year will need to be replaced, but few new opportunities will open up. Cardiothoracic surgeons may advance further by taking on supervisory roles in hospitals and clinics.

Working Conditions and Environment

Cardiothoracic surgeons work in clean, indoor hospital or clinic environments with other medical personnel. However, they must take safety precautions when working with sick patients, hazardous chemicals and sharp instruments. The job can be stressful, having to make at a moment’s notice what may turn out to be life or death decisions, and they often work long hours.

Salary and Benefits

Cardiothoracic surgeons earn very high salaries and generous benefit packages. With an average salary of $225,390 per year, they can earn anywhere between $97,299 and $528,575 annually. Benefit packages include health insurance, dental benefits and paid vacations.

Where to Go for More Information

American College of Surgeons
633 N Saint Clair St.
Chicago, IL 60611-3211
(312) 202-5000

Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery
Stanford University Medical Center
300 Pasteur Dr., Falk Bldg. CVRB
Stanford, CA 94305-5407
(650) 723-5771

The American Association for Thoracic Surgery
900 Cummings Center, Ste. 221-U
Beverly, MA 01915
(978) 927-8330

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons
633 N. Saint Clair Street, Flr. 23
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 202-5800

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