Heart Surgeon: Career, Salary and Education Details

Sep 15, 2019

Heart surgeons require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Heart surgeons are physicians that have pursued training in surgery, and then further specialization in heart surgery. They are qualified to conduct surgery on the heart, lungs, esophagus, blood vessels and other organs in the thoracic cavity, and have a high level of education. This is a growing field with high salary potential.

Essential Information

Heart surgeons are physicians who choose to focus their surgical practice on the heart and blood vessels of the chest cavity. Becoming a heart surgeon requires extensive education and training, including an undergraduate degree, medical school, residency and internship. A state-issued medical license is also required, and voluntary board certification in a specialty practice area is also available.

Required Education M.D.
Other Training Residency, internship
Other Requirements State medical license; voluntary board certification
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 7% for all physicians and surgeons*
Median Annual Salary (2019) $384,388 for cardiothoracic surgeons**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Heart Surgeon Job Description

Heart surgeons have been trained to perform surgery on the heart, lungs, esophagus, blood vessels and other organs in the thoracic cavity. These medical professionals conduct tests on patients to determine whether they have any conditions within the heart or vessels that need treatment. In addition to performing complicated surgeries, heart surgeons must conduct follow-up visits with patients and help them manage their overall health.

Heart Surgeon Education Requirements

Students must complete an undergraduate degree program before going on to medical school. While there are no required undergraduate majors for students to complete, individuals must pass prerequisite courses in chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics. In order to apply to medical schools, students need to take and achieve a strong score on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).

Prospective heart surgeons must also complete four years of medical school. Graduates must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) in order to practice medicine in the U.S. After graduating, all aspiring surgeons must complete a 5-year general surgery residency. Residents learn how to perform all different types of surgery during their training.

After completing a general surgery residency, those who wish to become heart surgeons need to complete an additional 2- or 3-year internship in cardiothoracic surgery. Interns focus on their chosen specialty and increase their knowledge and technical skills in the area of thoracic surgery. Once this internship is completed, surgeons may sit for the American Board of Thoracic Surgery examination to become board certified. Surgeons may also pursue an optional fellowship to further increase their skills in heart surgery.

Career and Salary Information

While heart surgeons may have their own practice, they perform surgeries in hospitals and other types of medical facilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that physicians and surgeons could expect job growth faster than the national average through 2028. According to PayScale.com, cardiothoracic surgeons who have 1 year experience earned $291,294, while those who have 1-4 years experience gained $323,904. Tenured professionals with 10-19 years of experience earned $437,871 in 2019.

After completing medical school, aspiring heart surgeons must complete a general surgery residency followed by a residency specializing in heart surgery, or cardiothoracic surgery. Heart surgeons are trained to operate on the thoracic, or chest cavity, including the heart, lungs and vascular system. They must be licensed to practice medicine and may pursue board certification.

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