Cardiologist Vs. Cardiac Surgeon

The roles that cardiologists and cardiac surgeons play in treating patients with heart conditions are examined in this article. Similarities and distinctions in their duties, training, work environment and salary are explored.

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Comparing Cardiologists to Cardiac Surgeons

Cardiologists and cardiac surgeons both work with patients who have heart conditions but their duties, work environment and training differ considerably. Cardiac surgeons also earn a significantly higher salary due to the nature of their work and the amount of training required.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)**
Cardiologists Medical degree; residency; fellowship $241,176 17% (internists, general)
Cardiac Surgeons Medical degree; residency; fellowship $302,649 17% (surgeons)

Sources: *PayScale; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Cardiologists vs. Cardiac Surgeons

Cardiologists and cardiac surgeons may both spend time examining patients and reviewing their medical test results and history. Cardiologists typically see patients in an office and provide health care that's intended to prevent serious heart problems or manage their condition. They may prescribe medication to patients, and some complete additional training so that they are qualified to perform specific medical tests or non-surgical treatments on patients. Cardiac surgeons may also perform medical tests on patients. They primarily treat patients who require surgery and may be responsible for performing bypass surgery or a number of other surgical procedures. While cardiologists may concentrate on teaching patients how to make dietary changes that can help prevent more serious heart-related health issues from developing, cardiac surgeons may play a role in educating patients on how to maintain their health after surgery and explain to the patient what was involved in the procedures they performed.


Cardiologists prepare for their career by finishing a fellowship in cardiology after they have earned a medical degree and completed a residency in internal medicine. There are a number of sub-specializations cardiologists can choose from. Non-invasive cardiologists concentrate on treating patients through diet, lifestyle changes or medication while invasive, non-interventional cardiologists are also trained to perform medical tests to locate blocked arteries. Other specializations include interventional cardiologists, who perform treatments on arteries that are blocked, and electrophysiologists, who treat patients with heart arrhythmias. Cardiologists may work in hospitals or medical offices and their work environment will depend on their sub-specialty. Those who pursue a career as an interventional cardiologist or an electrophysiologist are required to spend up to two additional years in fellowship training.

Job responsibilities of a cardiologist include:

  • Evaluating patients
  • Performing or ordering medical tests
  • Identifying the patient's medical issues
  • Developing a treatment plan
  • Prescribing medication
  • Educating patients about healthy lifestyle choices

Cardiac Surgeons

Cardiac surgeons may also be known as cardiothoracic surgeons or cardiovascular surgeons. They are specifically trained to operate on a patient's heart. Once they have completed medical school they must spend five years completing a residency in surgery and then complete a fellowship in cardiac surgery. Cardiac surgeons typically work in hospitals and may be required to work long hours operating on patients. They treat patients who have a range of medical issues, including heart defects or blocked arteries. Since they spend long periods of time standing and must make precise incisions in a patient's body they need to have physical stamina and dexterity.

Job responsibilities of a cardiac surgeon include:

  • Reviewing patient files
  • Completing medical tests on patients
  • Following up with patients after procedures
  • Providing direction to surgical staff
  • Determining plan for operation

Related Careers

Since cardiologists are internal medicine specialists those considering this career field may be interested in other internal medicine specialties, such as immunology. Another option for aspiring cardiac surgeons is to become an orthopedic surgeon because they are also trained to operate on patients.

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