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How do I Become a Cardiovascular Surgeon?

By Nat Robinson
Updated May 17, 2024
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A cardiovascular surgeon is a trained health care professional who performs surgical procedures on the heart and neighboring blood vessels. Surgeons in this specialty commonly perform a wide variety of cardiovascular procedures, which may include a heart transplantation, open heart surgery, valve replacements, and bypass grafting, as well as minimally invasive procedures. In the United States, a surgeon of this nature may be trained to perform both cardiac and thoracic surgery, which involves treatment of the organs within the thorax, or chest. After completing the necessary additional training, these surgeons are known as cardiothoracic surgeons. To become a cardiovascular surgeon, an individual will be required to obtain an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution, attend medical school and complete a residency in surgery.

After graduating from high school, an individual will need to enroll in a college or university and obtain a bachelor's degree to eventually become a cardiovascular surgeon. Generally, there is no requirement for a certain undergraduate degree for someone wishing to pursue this career. However, many students earn an undergraduate degree in the sciences, such as biology, chemistry or physiology. While pursuing a bachelor's degree, it will be important to be familiar with the requirements needed to get into medical school, as most schools will have a list of prerequisites a student must meet to gain entrance. This is essential because, after an undergraduate degree is obtained, the next step to become a cardiovascular surgeon is to attend medical school.

Individuals seeking to become a cardiovascular surgeon will generally attend four years of medical school. To be accepted into medical school in the United States, students may be required to take and pass the medical college admissions test, also known as the MCAT. Medical school is generally considered to be very challenging, and there are typically very long hours and extensive periods of studying. The last portions of medical school will commonly include clinical exposure, which may entail working with real patients.

Following medical school, an individual will need to complete a surgery residency to become a cardiovascular surgeon. Typically, the residency will begin with several years of training in general surgery. After completing a general surgery residency, the individual can begin specialized residency training in cardiovascular surgery. If there is an interest in thoracic surgery as well, the individual may pursue a residency in cardiothoracic training instead. This will give the surgeon the ability to perform surgical procedures on both the heart and organs in the thorax, such as the lungs.

Once a residency in cardiology and surgery is completed, the doctor will need board certification and a license to operate to become a cardiovascular surgeon. In the United States, the surgeon will generally need a license for the particular state where he or she will practice. For this reason, it is important to research and learn the individual requirements of different regions. There are generally a wide variety of occupational opportunities for cardiovascular surgeons. Once all of the educational requirements are met, a cardiovascular surgeon may join a group practice or start a privately owned establishment.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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