What is a Cardiothoracic Surgeon?

A Cardiothoracic Surgeon is a specialized type of Surgeon. Also known as: Cardiac Surgeon, Cardiovascular Surgeon, General Thoracic Surgeon, Congenital Heart Surgeon, Heart 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. As well as performing surgery, they also diagnose and treat diseases of these organs.

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 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.

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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.



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Further Reading

  • In the Zone: A Day in the Life of a Pediatric Cardiac Surgeon columbiasurgery.org

    In this interview, Dr. Bacha, Chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, provides a glimpse into what it is like to perform open heart surgery on children every day, and what it takes to excel in such demanding circumstances.

  • Meet the Doctor: Andrew Goldstein, MD, FACS, Cardiothoracic Surgeon www.cancerfightersthrive.com

    I had been a Space Shuttle engineer in southern California after college and had read about development of artificial heart technology and other medical devices in a great publication called NASA Spin-Off. This technology was in its infancy at the time, and the thought of applying my background as an engineer while being more personally involved with individuals in need was irresistible.

  • A Career in Cardiothoracic Surgery careers.bmj.com

    Cardiothoracic surgeons derive a great deal of reward from the immensely positive changes they can impart to their patients—for example, prolonging life in ischaemic heart disease, transplanting a lung for end stage emphysema, or successfully curing a patient who has cancer.

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