What is a Cardiothoracic Surgeon?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2019
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A cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in conducting delicate surgical procedures on the heart, lungs, esophagus, and chest arteries. He or she utilizes sophisticated tools and techniques to treat patients for a variety of conditions. Many surgeons specialize by working with a certain population of patients or performing a specific type of operation. Most procedures are conducted to prevent future complications, such as unclogging an artery or removing a suspicious tumor. At times, however, a cardiothoracic surgeon may be required to perform an emergency operation to restore functioning during heart or lung failure.

Patients who are diagnosed with heart and lung disorders need surgery when their diseases do not respond to other forms of treatment. A cardiothoracic surgeon is trained to perform operations on people with lung cancer, heart disease, atherosclerosis, congenital defects, and a number of other potentially life-threatening conditions. Some procedures are minimally invasive; a surgeon can insert a camera and manipulate tiny surgical tools through a small incision in the chest cavity. Many conditions, however, require the surgeon to fully expose the heart or lungs in order to correct problems.


A cardiothoracic surgeon may choose to specialize in his or her field in order to provide the best possible care. Many professionals work solely with children or the elderly. A surgeon may also concentrate on specific procedures, such as cancer excision, bypass surgery, or heart transplantation. Experts rely on nurses and other surgeons to assist them during operations to ensure patients remain stable and that the tools they need are at hand at all times.

A person who wants to become a cardiothoracic surgeon is required to earn a degree from an accredited four-year medical school. After graduation, he or she enters a residency program in general surgery at a hospital. A residency usually lasts for at least five years, during which time a new surgeon has the opportunity to work alongside experts in the field to gain practical experience and learn about detailed procedures. An additional two to three years are then spent in a cardiothoracic surgery residency at a general hospital or specialty clinic. Before a surgeon can work independently, he or she must pass an extensive series of exams administered by regional and national governing boards.

A newly-licensed cardiothoracic surgeon can apply for jobs at hospitals, clinics, and medical universities. There is generally a strong demand for new surgeons since relatively few experts are able to complete the rigorous educational and training requirements. In addition to treating patients, many surgeons spend part of their time conducting research on various conditions and surgical procedures. They also frequently attend seminars and professional gatherings to learn about the latest technological advances in cardiothoracic surgery and surgical equipment.



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