What is a Cardiothoracic Surgeon?

A cardiothoracic surgeon is a highly specialized medical doctor who focuses on surgical procedures related to the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs located in the chest or thoracic cavity. These surgeons typically perform complex procedures to treat conditions such as heart disease, lung cancer, congenital heart defects, and other thoracic disorders.

Cardiothoracic surgeons may work in hospitals, clinics, or private practice, and their work is often done in collaboration with other medical professionals, including cardiologists, pulmonologists, anesthesiologists, and other specialists. The work of a cardiothoracic surgeon can be emotionally and physically challenging, but it can also be highly rewarding, as these professionals have the opportunity to improve the lives of their patients by performing life-saving surgeries and other procedures.

What does a Cardiothoracic Surgeon do?

A cardiothoracic surgeon performing surgery.

Duties and Responsibilities
The duties and responsibilities of a cardiothoracic surgeon may vary depending on their practice setting, the patient population they serve, and their area of specialization. However, some common duties and responsibilities of cardiothoracic surgeons include:

  • Preoperative Evaluation: Cardiothoracic surgeons assess patients' medical histories, perform physical examinations, and order diagnostic tests to evaluate their overall health and determine the need for surgery. They review imaging studies such as echocardiograms, angiograms, and CT scans to identify the specific anatomical abnormalities or conditions requiring surgical intervention.
  • Surgical Planning: Cardiothoracic surgeons collaborate with multidisciplinary teams, including cardiologists, anesthesiologists, and other surgical specialists, to develop comprehensive treatment plans tailored to each patient's unique needs. They review patients' medical records, imaging studies, and diagnostic test results to determine the most appropriate surgical approach and techniques for achieving optimal outcomes.
  • Surgical Procedures: Cardiothoracic surgeons perform a wide range of surgical procedures to treat conditions affecting the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other thoracic organs. Common procedures include coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), valve repair or replacement, heart transplantation, lung resection for cancer or other pulmonary diseases, and repair of congenital heart defects. Cardiothoracic surgeons utilize advanced surgical techniques, including minimally invasive and robotic-assisted procedures, to minimize surgical trauma and improve patient recovery.
  • Intraoperative Management: During surgical procedures, cardiothoracic surgeons oversee the surgical team and coordinate with anesthesiologists to ensure patients' safety and well-being. They perform precise surgical maneuvers, monitor patients' vital signs, and make real-time decisions to address any unexpected complications or challenges that may arise during surgery.
  • Postoperative Care: After surgery, cardiothoracic surgeons provide comprehensive postoperative care to monitor patients' recovery and manage any complications that may occur. They collaborate with critical care specialists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to optimize patients' recovery, alleviate pain, prevent infections, and promote healing.
  • Patient Education and Counseling: Cardiothoracic surgeons educate patients and their families about their conditions, treatment options, and postoperative care instructions. They address patients' concerns, answer questions, and provide guidance on lifestyle modifications, medication adherence, and follow-up appointments to support patients' long-term health and well-being.
  • Research and Academic Activities: Many cardiothoracic surgeons are actively involved in clinical research, academic teaching, and professional development activities. They participate in research studies to advance medical knowledge, develop innovative surgical techniques, and improve treatment outcomes for patients with cardiovascular and thoracic diseases. Additionally, cardiothoracic surgeons may mentor medical students, residents, and fellows and contribute to medical literature through publications and presentations at national and international conferences.

Types of Cardiothoracic Surgeons
Within the field of cardiothoracic surgery, there are several specialized areas that surgeons may focus on, each addressing specific aspects of heart, lung, and thoracic surgery. Here are some types of cardiothoracic surgeons:

  • Cardiac Surgeon: Cardiac surgeons specialize in surgical procedures involving the heart and great vessels. They perform a wide range of surgeries to treat conditions such as coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease, congenital heart defects, and aortic aneurysms. Cardiac surgeons may perform procedures like coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), valve repair or replacement, heart transplantation, and repair of complex congenital heart defects.
  • Cardiothoracic Transplant Surgeon: Transplant surgeons specialize in the surgical transplantation of hearts, lungs, or both organs (heart-lung transplantation). They evaluate potential transplant candidates, perform organ procurement surgeries, and transplant donor organs into recipients. Cardiothoracic transplant surgeons work closely with multidisciplinary teams, including cardiologists, pulmonologists, transplant coordinators, and immunologists, to manage patients before and after transplantation and optimize transplant outcomes.
  • Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgeon: Pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons specialize in performing surgical procedures on infants, children, and adolescents with congenital heart defects and acquired heart diseases. They diagnose and treat complex cardiac anomalies, such as atrial septal defects, ventricular septal defects, tetralogy of Fallot, transposition of the great arteries, and hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons work closely with pediatric cardiologists, pediatric cardiac anesthesiologists, and pediatric intensivists to provide comprehensive care for pediatric patients with heart conditions.
  • Thoracic Surgeon: Thoracic surgeons focus on surgical procedures involving the lungs, esophagus, mediastinum, and chest wall. They diagnose and treat conditions such as lung cancer, esophageal cancer, mediastinal tumors, pleural diseases, and thoracic outlet syndrome. Thoracic surgeons perform surgeries such as lung resection (lobectomy, pneumonectomy), esophagectomy, mediastinal tumor resection, and minimally invasive thoracic surgery.
  • Vascular Surgeon: While not exclusively focused on cardiothoracic surgery, vascular surgeons specialize in treating diseases of the blood vessels throughout the body, including those within the chest and thoracic cavity. They diagnose and treat conditions such as aortic aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, carotid artery disease, and deep vein thrombosis. Vascular surgeons perform surgical procedures such as endovascular repair of aortic aneurysms, arterial bypass surgery, carotid endarterectomy, and thrombectomy for vascular occlusions.

Are you suited to be a cardiothoracic surgeon?

Cardiothoracic surgeons have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also realistic, meaning they’re independent, stable, persistent, genuine, practical, and thrifty.

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What is the workplace of a Cardiothoracic Surgeon like?

The workplace of a cardiothoracic surgeon is dynamic and varied, often encompassing a mix of clinical, surgical, and academic settings. Many cardiothoracic surgeons work in large medical centers or hospitals with specialized cardiovascular and thoracic surgery departments. These institutions offer state-of-the-art facilities, including advanced operating rooms equipped with specialized surgical instruments and technology, intensive care units for postoperative care, and diagnostic imaging services for preoperative evaluation. In this environment, cardiothoracic surgeons collaborate closely with multidisciplinary teams of cardiac surgeons, thoracic surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care to patients with complex heart and lung conditions.

In addition to hospital-based practice, some cardiothoracic surgeons work in private practices or group practices specializing in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery. These practices may offer a more personalized and patient-centered approach to care, with opportunities for surgeons to build long-term relationships with their patients and provide continuity of care throughout the treatment process. Private practice settings may also afford cardiothoracic surgeons greater autonomy and flexibility in managing their schedules and patient caseloads, allowing them to focus on specific areas of interest within the field of cardiothoracic surgery.

Many cardiothoracic surgeons are also actively involved in academic medicine, working in teaching hospitals or academic medical centers affiliated with medical schools or universities. In academic settings, cardiothoracic surgeons not only provide patient care but also engage in research, teaching, and professional development activities. They mentor medical students, residents, and fellows, participate in clinical trials and research studies to advance medical knowledge, and contribute to scholarly publications and presentations at national and international conferences. Academic institutions provide cardiothoracic surgeons with opportunities for lifelong learning, collaboration with other experts in the field, and leadership roles in shaping the future of cardiothoracic surgery through education, innovation, and research.

Frequently Asked Questions

Doctor Specializations and Degrees

The following is a comprehensive list of the various specializations that a doctor can pursue and a brief summary of each specialization:

  • Allergist: An allergist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies, asthma, and related conditions. Allergists have specialized training in the recognition and management of allergic reactions.
  • Anesthesiologist: An anesthesiologist keeps a patient comfortable, safe and pain-free during surgery by administering local or general anesthetic.
  • Cardiologist: A cardiologist specializes in finding, treating, and preventing diseases that affect the heart, the arteries, and the veins.
  • Cardiothoracic Surgeon: A cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in surgical procedures inside the thorax (the chest), which may involve the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest. As well as performing surgery, they also diagnose and treat diseases of these organs.
  • Chiropractic Neurologist: A chiropractic neurologist is a specialized type of chiropractor who has undergone additional training in the field of neurology. They diagnose and treat conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system.
  • Chiropractor: A chiropractor, or doctor of chiropractic medicine, specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system, especially in the spine. Treatment is usually physical manipulation of the joints and the spine to bring them back into alignment. A chiropractor does not perform surgery or prescribe medication.
  • Colorectal Surgeon: A colorectal surgeon specializes in diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus, as well as the entire gastric tract. These surgeons work closely with urologists, who handle the urogenital tract in males and the urinary tract of women, gynecologists, who deal with specific female issues, and gastroenterologists, who deal with diseases of the gut.
  • Doctor: An general overview of what a doctor does and how to become one.
  • Dentist: Dentists identify potential oral health issues such as gum disease, as well as examine patients, order medical tests and determine the correct diagnosis and treatment. They also perform oral surgery and remove teeth or address other dental health problems.
  • Dermatologist: A dermatologist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions affecting skin, hair, sweat and oil glands, nails, and mucus membranes (inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids) which can include cancer.
  • Emergency Medicine Physician: An emergency medicine physician works in emergency departments, hospitals, and urgent care clinics, and is often the first medical professional that patients see when they are in need of urgent medical care.
  • Endocrinologist: An endocrinologist specializes in diagnosing conditions and diseases related to the glands and hormones. While primary care doctors know a lot about the human body, for conditions and diseases directly related to glands and hormones they will typically send a patient to an endocrinologist.
  • Family Practitioner: A family practitioner specializes in caring for the entire family. Patients can be children, adults, and the elderly, and are treated for a wide array of medical issues.
  • Forensic Pathologist: A forensic pathologist investigates the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths, and is able to determine how a person died by performing an autopsy and studying tissue and laboratory results. These doctors are often called upon to provide evidence in court regarding the cause and time of such deaths.
  • Gastroenterologist: A gastroenterologist has specific training in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This may include diseases and disorders that affect the the biliary system (liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts), as well as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (colon).
  • Geriatrician: A geriatrician specializes in the care of elderly patients, and often works with patients who have multiple chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as age-related cognitive and functional impairments.
  • Gynecologist: A gynecologist specializes in women's reproductive systems. Gynecologists are also sometimes certified as obstetricians, and will monitor the health of the mother and the fetus during a pregnancy.
  • Hematologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders, such as anemia and leukemia.
  • Hospitalist: A hospitalist is a physician whose focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. Their duties include patient care, teaching, research, and leadership related to hospital medicine.
  • Immunologist: An immunologist specializes in managing problems related to the immune system, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases. A smaller number of immunologists are strictly researchers seeking to better understand how the immune system works and to help develop better ways of diagnosing and providing treatment for many immunological conditions.
  • Infectious Disease Specialist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.
  • Internist: An internist is a 'doctor of internal medicine' who can diagnose, treat, and practice compassionate care for adults across the spectrum, from health to complex illness. They are not to be mistaken with "interns," who are doctors in their first year of residency training.
  • Medical Examiner: Medical examiners are responsible for performing autopsies and collecting evidence related to the circumstances of a death, including medical history, physical examination findings, and toxicology tests.
  • Naturopathic Physician: A naturopathic physician blends modern scientific medical practice and knowledge with natural and traditional forms of medical treatment. The goal is to treat the underlying causes of disease while stimulating the body's own healing abilities.
  • Nephrologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases. They treat conditions such as chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, kidney stones, hypertension, and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Neurologist: A neurologist specializes in treating diseases that affect the human nervous system. It is a very prestigious and difficult medical specialty due to the complexity of the nervous system, which consists of the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves.
  • Neurosurgeon: A neurosurgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system. This includes congenital anomalies, trauma, tumours, vascular disorders, infections of the brain or spine, stroke, or degenerative diseases of the spine.
  • Obstetrician: An obstetrician is a medical doctor who specializes in caring for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
  • Occupational Physician: Occupational medicine is focused on keeping individuals well at work, both mentally and physically. As workplaces become more complex, occupational physicians play an important role in advising people on how their work can affect their health.
  • Oncologist: An oncologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The three primary types of oncologists are: medical oncologists that specialize in the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells; surgical oncologists that perform surgical procedures to identify and remove cancerous tumors; and radiation oncologists that treat cancer with radiation therapy.
  • Ophthalmologist: An ophthalmologist is a specialist that deals specifically with the structure, function, diseases, and treatment of the eye. Due to the complexities and the importance of the eye as a special sense that provides vision, the discipline of ophthalmology is dedicated solely to this organ.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: An oral and maxillofacial surgeon treats dental and medical problems involving the oral cavity and the maxillofacial area. The maxillofacial area includes the bones of the forehead, face, cheekbones and the soft tissues. Treatment often involves performing surgery and related procedures to treat diseases, defects, or injuries, and to improve function or appearance.
  • Orthodontist: An orthodontist specializes in how the jaws and teeth are aligned. They help people whose teeth are misaligned or require some kind of correction – those with an improper bite, or malocclusion.
  • Orthopedic Surgeon / Orthopedist: An orthopaedic surgeon (or orthopedist) examines, diagnoses, and treats diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. This system includes the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.
  • Osteopath: Osteopaths have attended and graduated from an osteopathic medical school and practise the system of healthcare known as osteopathy. They consider all aspects of the patient, not just the symptoms they exhibit. They see the integrated nature of the body’s organ systems and its capacity for self-regulation and self-healing.
  • Otolaryngologist: Otolaryngologists (or ENT physicians) are specialists trained in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck. These specialists are trained in both medicine and surgery.
  • Pathologist: A pathologist studies the causes, nature, and effects of disease. The field of pathology is broad with concentrations on changes in cells, tissues, and organs that are the result of a disease.
  • Pediatrician: A pediatrician specializes in providing medical care to infants, children and teenagers by administering treatments, therapies, medications and vaccinations to treat illness, disorders or injuries.
  • Periodontist: A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in oral inflammation, and who knows how to prevent, diagnose, and treat periodontal disease.
  • Plastic Surgeon: A plastic surgeon specializes in reshaping healthy body parts for aesthetic reasons, and also in repairing or replacing body parts damaged by accidents, illness or malformation.
  • Podiatrist: A podiatrist practices podiatric medicine, which is a branch of science devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and study of medical disorders of the foot, ankle, lower leg and lower back. In the U.S. and Canada, podiatry is practiced as a specialty.
  • Prosthodontist: A prosthodontist specializes in restoring the look, function, comfort, and health of a patient's oral cavity with artificial materials. These artificial materials are made up of a wide variety of restorations that include fillings, dentures, veneers, crowns, bridges and oral implants.
  • Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are physicians who evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who are affected by a temporary or chronic mental health problem.
  • Pulmonologist: A pulmonologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary (lung) conditions and diseases of the chest, particularly pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, and complicated chest infections.
  • Radiologist: A radiologist is a specialist in interpreting medical images that may be obtained with x-rays, (CT scans or radiographs), nuclear medicine (involving radioactive substances, magnetism (MRI), or ultrasound.
  • Rheumatologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Sports Medicine Physician: A sports medicine physician specializes in taking care of people who have sports injuries that may be acquired from playing sports, exercising, or from otherwise being physically active.
  • Surgeon: A surgeon performs surgery for the purpose of removing diseased tissue or organs, to repair body systems, or to replace diseased organs with transplants.
  • Telemedicine Physician: A telemedicine physician provides remote healthcare services to patients using telecommunications technology, facilitating virtual consultations, diagnoses, and treatment recommendations.
  • Urologist: A urologist specializes in the treatment of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. Urologists can treat the kidneys, urinary bladder, urethra, uterus, and male reproductive organs. There are also specific specialty areas that urologists may choose to focus on, such as pediatric urology, male infertility, and urologic oncology.
  • Vascular Medicine Specialist - A vascular medicine specialist specializes in the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels. They may work with patients who have conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, or pulmonary embolism.
  • Vascular Surgeon - A vascular surgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels, including aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, and varicose veins.
  • Veterinary Dentist - A veterinary dentist is a specialized veterinarian who focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of dental diseases and conditions in animals. They perform dental procedures such as cleanings, extractions, and oral surgeries to improve the oral health and well-being of pets and other animals.


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See Also
Doctor Allergist Anesthesiologist Cardiologist Chiropractor Colorectal Surgeon Dentist Dermatologist Emergency Medicine Physician Endocrinologist Family Practitioner Forensic Pathologist Gastroenterologist Geriatrician Gynecologist Hematologist Hospitalist Immunologist Infectious Disease Specialist Internist Medical Examiner Naturopathic Physician Nephrologist Neurologist Neurosurgeon Obstetrician Occupational Physician Oncologist Ophthalmologist Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Orthopedic Surgeon Orthopedist Orthodontist Osteopath Otolaryngologist Pathologist Pediatrician Periodontist Plastic Surgeon Podiatrist Prosthodontist Psychiatrist Pulmonologist Radiologist Rheumatologist Sports Medicine Physician Surgeon Urologist Vascular Medicine Specialist Vascular Surgeon Chiropractic Neurologist Veterinary Dentist Telemedicine Physician