Cardiac Surgeon: Education Requirements and Career Info

Aug 26, 2019

How long does it take to become a heart surgeon? Cardiac surgeons require significant formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

How to Become a Cardiothoracic Surgeon

A cardiac surgeon, also known as a cardiothoracic surgeon, specializes in heart surgeries, which necessitates a great deal of education and experience. Cardiac surgeons must earn a college pre-med degree, complete medical school, pass an exam to become licensed, and complete two residencies--a process which can take around 15 years to finish.

Cardiac surgeons operate on the heart and surrounding vessels to treat cardiovascular diseases. To become board-certified, they undergo an intensive training program that includes four years of college, four years of medical school, and at least seven years of residencies and fellowships. While a surgical career is demanding and rigorous, it offers among the highest salary of any practicing medical profession.

Required Education Doctor of Medicine degree
Additional Training Residencies and fellowships in cardiac surgery
License Medical license required; board certification by the American Board of Thoracic Surgery
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)* 13% for all physicians and surgeons
Median Annual Salary (2019)** $296,598 for cardiac surgeons

Sources: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **

Cardiothoracic Surgeon Education Requirements

Undergraduate Degree

Becoming a board-certified cardiac surgeon entails an extensive training process. The first step is completing four years of undergraduate school and fulfilling medical school prerequisites, such as courses in biology, chemistry, math, and physics. After earning a bachelor's degree, the student must pass the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).

Medical School

Four years of medical school is required to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. This training includes classroom and laboratory learning in the first two years and extensive work with patients under the supervision of one or more licensed physicians during the last two years. Along with practice in patient examinations and diagnoses, the student is often trained in acute, chronic, preventive, and rehabilitative care to provide a well-rounded medical education.

Cardiac Surgery Certification, Residency, and Specialized Training

After medical school, the student must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination to legally practice medicine in any state. The licensed doctor is then required to complete four to five years in a general surgery residency followed by at least two years in a cardiac surgery resident or fellowship program. The distinctive cardiac training usually develops surgical skills that focus on a particular specialty, such as adult, pediatric, or thoracic cardiovascular surgery. Once these requirements have been fulfilled, the candidate is eligible to take a final examination by the American Board of Thoracic Surgery and become board-certified.

Cardiac Surgeon Career Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), demand for surgeons and physicians, including cardiac surgeons, is expected to increase 13% from 2016-2026 ( The BLS anticipates job growth to be spurred by increases in the elderly population and a continued expansion of services in the healthcare industry. Job prospects were projected to be higher for surgeons willing to practice in low-income, rural, and other underserved regions.

The majority of surgeons practice in private physicians' offices, though hospitals, outpatient care centers and government facilities also maintain a surgical staff, according to the BLS. In August 2019, reported that cardiac surgeons earned a median salary of $296,598 per year.

To become a cardiac surgeon, a bachelor's degree, medical school degree, licensure, and a residency in both general surgery and cardiac surgery must all be obtained. The median salary for heart surgeons was almost $300,000 in 2019, and jobs for all surgeons and physicians were expected to grow at a faster than average rate through 2026.

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