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Heart Surgeon

Education and Training: Medical school followed by specialized training
Average Salary: $400,000
Job Outlook: Good

Heart surgeons are physicians who have chosen to specialize in cardiology, and are medical doctors who have completed extensive specialized training in treating heart conditions and disorders of the cardiovascular system and the heart.

Although cardiac surgery is used less frequently than in the past due to the development of new and less invasive techniques, it is still necessary for cardiologists to perform various surgical procedures. The most highly qualified heart surgeons are able to carry out life-saving operations such as coronary artery bypasses, valve replacements, and repairs of congenital heart conditions, while some are even able to perform complete heart transplants.

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of mortality in the United States, and a considerable percentage of the population is under the care of a cardiologist, and some of these patients will require heart surgery.

Education and Training Requirements

The path to becoming a heart surgeon is one of the longest and most difficult in medicine. Aspiring heart surgeons have to complete four years of college followed by another four years of medical school. After this they must spend a further five years in general surgery residency, and several more doing a specialized cardio fellowship. All heart surgeons must be certified by the American Board of Medical Specialists, after which they can seek further certification in cardiothoracic surgery. In time the most accomplished surgeons can be elected to become a fellow of the American College of Cardiology.

Anyone wishing to qualify as a heart surgeon needs to be extremely people oriented, and must have a good bedside manner combined with the ability to make decisions in emergency situations. Training requires long hours and dedication, and this study is likely to continue throughout their career.

Getting the Job

Heart surgeons have to be extremely knowledgeable about pathology, anatomy, pharmacology, biochemistry and ethics. They need a thorough knowledge of the anatomy of the heart and surrounding blood vessels, and cardiothoracic surgeons must also be knowledgeable about the lungs.

On the job training is vital for this career, as it gives real world experience in diagnosing and treating diseases and illnesses.

Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

The job prospects for heart surgeons are extremely good, as this field of expertise is expected to be in demand for the foreseeable future, especially as some heart problems can be caused by obesity and lifestyle which is a continuing problem for the developed world.

Heart surgeons are expected to be in particular demand in less populated rural areas within the US. The majority of heart surgeons are employed by hospitals or medical centers, however some may set up their own practices, and will perform surgeries and routine checkups on heart patients.

Working Conditions and Environment

This is an extremely stressful job, and the hours can be somewhat unpredictable as heart surgery is frequently carried out as an emergency procedure. Many people would find working in a surgical environment too much to cope with, as it takes a great physical and mental strength to be able to cope with the demands of this job.

Salary and Benefits

Heart surgeons are amongst the most highly paid medical staff, and the salary depends on experience. Surgeons with less than one year of experience earn $100,000 upwards, while those with up to 4 years experience earn between $120,000 and $300,000. The most experienced heart surgeons will earn anything between $200,000 and $500,000, with the majority earning an average salary of $400,000. The salary of a heart surgeon also depends on location, with those in larger cities earning more. The majority of their income is paid as a salary, with up to 20% being made up in commissions, bonuses, and profit sharing.

Where to Go for More Information

American College of Cardiology
Heart House
2400 N St. NW
Washington DC, 20037
(202) 375-6000

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

Association of American Medical Colleges
2450 N St. NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 828-0400

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