What is a Cardiothoracic Surgeon?

A cardiothoracic surgeon is a medical doctor who specializes in surgical procedures inside the thorax (the chest), which may involve the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest.

Cardiothoracic surgeons see the immediate and often life-changing results of their work. Since the end of the Second World War cardiothoracic surgery has seen accelerated growth, along with rapidly evolving technological changes. This medical specialty is relatively young and is still evolving.

What does a Cardiothoracic Surgeon do?

Cardiothoracic surgeons play an important role within the healthcare team. They operate on diseases that occur in the organs inside the chest and in the bony structures and tissues that form the chest cavity.

A cardiothoracic surgeon looking at an x-ray of a patient's lungs.

A diagnosis of heart disease begins with a patient's primary care physician, who will then refer them to a cardiologist. If their cardiologist decides that they need surgery, he or she will refer them to a cardiothoracic surgeon, who becomes a new member of their heart-health team.

Within the specialty of cardiothoracic surgery, there are specific specialties - adult cardiac surgery, children's cardiac surgery, general thoracic surgery (disorders of the lungs and esophagus), congential cardiac surgery, and heart and lung transplant surgery.

A cardiothoracic surgeon may treat: coronary artery disease or blockages of the arteries in the heart, blockages in the heart valve(s), leaking heart valve(s), abnormal enlargement or aneurysms of the large arteries in the chest, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation.

Monitoring patients in intensive care is an important part of a cardiothoracic surgeon's work. Although cardiothoracic surgery is very safe, complications can sometimes occur, including heart-beat irregularity (arrhythmias), stroke, post-operative bleeding, fluid around the lungs, infection, or thrombosis.

Are you suited to be a cardiothoracic surgeon?

Cardiothoracic surgeons have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also realistic, meaning they’re independent, stable, persistent, genuine, practical, and thrifty.

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What is the workplace of a Cardiothoracic Surgeon like?

Cardiothoracic surgeons typically work in hospitals, performing both scheduled and emergency operations. Some work in teaching hospitals, helping aspiring cardiothoracic surgeons to perfect their skills.

Cardiothoracic surgeons are also involved in the treatment and management of many different conditions within their specialty, which may involve their presence at outpatient clinics, team meetings, and ward rounds.

Cardiothoracic surgeons that are just starting out can expect to work long and irregular hours. They are often on call, and will need to work whenever an emergency comes up and a patient needs surgery immediately. Surgeons that work with large teams may trade off on call shifts with others on their team or can switch between working day and night shifts.

Cardiothoracic surgeons may perform two operations one day and four or five the next, depending on their patients' needs. This is a demanding career, and knowing how to manage stress is extremely important.

Cardiothoracic Surgeons are also known as:
Cardiac Surgeon Cardiovascular Surgeon General Thoracic Surgeon Congenital Heart Surgeon Heart Surgeon