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Cardiothoracic Surgeon: Education and Training Program Options

Cardiothoracic surgeons, who perform operations in order to treat heart, lung and cardiovascular conditions, receive training through medical surgical residency programs. Board certification in thoracic surgery is required.

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Essential Information

Cardiothoracic surgeons begin training in medical residency programs after completing medical school. The residency placement system is competitive, with only the best candidates getting the top spots. Some programs require a continuous six-to-eight-year general residency prior to a one-to-two-year residency in cardiothoracic surgery.


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Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Residency programs provide intense training through conferences and seminars, but mostly through clinical experience in teaching hospitals. Some topics covered through cardiothoracic surgery residency programs include:

  • Anatomy and physiology of the chest
  • Abnormalities in the diaphragm
  • Coronary heart and artery disease
  • Mechanical circulatory systems
  • Heart and lung transplant procedures
  • Pediatric cardiac pathology

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Despite the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) prediction of an 14% job growth for physicians and surgeons during the 2014-2024 decade (www.bls.gov), the Society for Thoracic Surgeons has predicted that over half of the current cardiothoracic surgeons will retire within a decade. Demand is also expected due to an increase in cardiovascular disease among Americans.

The average salary for surgeons in May 2015 was $247,520, according to the BLS. Cardiothoracic surgeons made a median salary of $367,110 in January 2016, says Payscale.com.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

To become board certified in thoracic surgery, which includes cardiothoracic surgery, applicants must meet requirements of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery. There are several training pathways that can be taken, but all generally involve residency training in thoracic, cardiac and vascular surgery that is approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Applicants also must pass a rigorous exam (www.abts.org).

Training for cardiothoracic surgery may require an additional one-to-two-year residency after a general residency. Some programs offer a continuous residency that may last between six to eight years.

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