Thoracic Medicine Specialist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Sep 28, 2019

Thoracic medicine specialists require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure information to see if this is the right career for you.

Thoracic medicine specialists are physicians who focus on the chest region of the body. In both the U.S. and Australia, becoming a thoracic medicine specialist requires significant education and training in the medical field. This is a field with high job growth and high salaries.

Essential Information

Thoracic medicine may be a surgical or nonsurgical medical specialty. Thoracic medicine specialists, or pulmonologists, manage non-surgical care of serious respiratory ailments like pneumonia, tuberculosis and chest infections. Thoracic surgeons treat injuries, diseases and congenital abnormalities in a patient's chest, including surgery to remove tumors, manage disorders or repair trauma to the heart, blood vessels, lungs, esophagus and diaphragm. A thoracic surgeon may specialize in one region, such as the lungs, or in one type of surgery, such as coronary artery bypass. Both specialists and surgeons must complete 9-16 years of combined undergraduate education, medical education and medical residency.

Required Education Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Other Requirements Residency training; U.S. Medical License; Fellowships and certification as applicable to pulmonologists or surgeons
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 7% for all physicians and surgeons*
Median Annual Salary (2018) $200,890 for physicians and surgeons, all other*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties of a Thoracic Medicine Specialist

Pulmonary disease specialists perform diagnostic tests like bronchoscopies, as well as treating and monitoring cases of complex respiratory disorders. Pulmonologists may perform biopsies and catheterizations, but most surgical intervention in the chest cavity is done by thoracic surgeons.

Thoracic surgeons evaluate patients, manage operative procedures and oversee postoperative care. Duties include coordinating nurses and assistants, reviewing medical histories, assessing patients and consulting with other specialists. Diagnostic procedures include biochemical tests, tissue biopsy, cardiac catheterization and electrocardiography.

Requirements to Become a Pulmonologist or Thoracic Surgeon in the U.S.

Knowledge of thoracic and cardiovascular structures, as well as related pathologies is essential. Undergraduate training and medical school requirements are similar for pulmonologists and thoracic surgeons before they specialize.

After earning a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), both pulmonologists and surgeons complete residencies approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Future pulmonologists complete an internal medicine residency, with rotations in pulmonary medicine, followed by either a 2-year pulmonary fellowship or a 3-year fellowship in pulmonary and critical care, according to the American College of Physicians. Pulmonary disease specialists get certification from the American Board of Internal Medicine.

According to the American Board of Thoracic Surgeons (ABTS), thoracic surgeons can combine a general or vascular surgery residency with a thoracic surgery residency or complete a 6-year integrated thoracic surgery residency. After completing residency, thoracic surgeons can test for their ABTS certification in general thoracic surgery or congenital cardiac surgery, which include a written and oral exam.

After medical school and residency training, both thoracic surgeons and pulmonologists must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination begin practice.

Requirements to Become a Thoracic Medicine Specialist in Australia

Thoracic medicine specialists in Australia perform duties similar to a pulmonologist. Aspiring thoracic medicine specialists can enter a 5-year to 6-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) straight from year 12 of secondary school, or earn a bachelor's degree and enroll in a graduate-entry medical school program, which takes four years.

Following medical school graduation from either the 6-year or 4-year program. Doctors must get provisional registration with the Medical Board of Australia prior undertaking an internship with rotations through specialties including respiratory medicine. After the yearlong internship, typically in a public hospital, prospective thoracic medicine specialists attain full medical registration with the Medical Board of Australia and become resident medical officers for a year of pre-vocational training, followed by 3-8 years of vocational training in a specialist program. Thoracic medicine specialists are a subspecialty of internal medicine.

Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts physicians and surgeons, like those who practice thoracic medicine, can expect a favorable employment outlook over the 2018-2028 decade. The growth rate in these fields is expected to be much faster than average during that time frame, according to the BLS. The BLS doesn't provide data specifically for thoracic medicine specialists, but physicians and surgeons with a variety of specializations earned an average of $203,880 in May of 2018, based on data from the BLS.

Thoracic medicine specialists must first complete medical school and residency, and then also have specialized knowledge of thoracic medicine. Licensure is required to practice. The process of becoming a thoracic specialist is slightly different in Australia, but still requires years of training. Job growth for physicians and surgeons is far above average for the next ten years.

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