Cardiothoracic Field of Medicine: How To Become a Cardiothoracic Surgeon

A cardiothoracic surgeon – as the name suggests, it is a doctor who is a specialist in surgical procedures performed on the heart, esophagus, lungs, and other organs in the chest area. All the surgeons who specialize in treating cardiovascular diseases, congenital heart problems in general thoracic surgery come under this banner.

It is one of the most important fields of medicine and this brings a question to mind: how to become a cardiothoracic surgeon? Well, as mentioned above it is one of the most important and complex fields of medicine, therefore it requires quite a lot of hard work and determination to become one.

How to become a cardiothoracic surgeon? Well, for starters, the doctors who aim to become cardiothoracic surgeons, they need to go for a 5-year general surgery residency after completing their medical school. After the surgery, they will have to do a 2 to 3 years cardiothoracic surgery residency program or they can do an integrated cardiothoracic surgery residency.

A lot of cardiothoracic surgeons opt to go for additional training in any of the specialized areas related to the cardiothoracic area. This additional training is optional but is required when doing a 1-year fellowship except for congenital heart surgery.

Diseases treated by cardiothoracic surgeons

How to become a cardiothoracic surgeon

There are a lot of diseases that are treated by cardiothoracic surgeons which occur inside the chest area as well as the tissues and bone structure that make the chest cavity.

One of the most common diseases treated by a cardiothoracic surgeon is coronary artery disease. The general thoracic surgeons treat lung cancer in preliminary stages along with the diseases that are related to the chest wall and the esophagus.

Congenital heart surgeons deal with the holes in hearts that occur in infants, babies, and children along with other complexities in the chambers of the heart as well as abnormal connections within a human heart.

We have listed a number of diseases that are treated by cardiothoracic surgeons. They are:

  • Blockage of the valves of the heart
  • Blockage of the arteries of the heart known as coronary arteries disease
  • Leakage of the heart’s valves
  • Heart failure
  • Abnormal enlargement of the large arteries
  • Aneurysms of the large arteries in the chest
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Severe emphysema
  • Hiatal hernias
  • Lung cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Achalasia is known as a swallowing disorder
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Heart valve surgery
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG)
  • Aortic surgery
  • Chest wall deformities
  • Pectus surgery
  • Tumors, cysts in lungs
  • Collapsed or infected lungs surgery
  • Keyhole thoracic surgery
  • Thoracoscopic surgery with the aid of a video
  • Pulmonary and aortic valve stenosis
  • Septal defects
  • Transposition of arteries

Cardiothoracic surgeries are considered to be safe but complicated at the same time. At any given point they might get complicated because of a sudden stroke, infection, sepsis, bleeding, or even death. Therefore, continuous monitoring of the patient in the intensive care units is a mandatory part of cardiothoracic surgery.

The surgeons and their staff are responsible for doing all kinds of medical work involved in the surgery process such as the diagnosis, management, and the treatment of various diseases that might occur during the treatment process.

This is a lot of work and requires a close-knitted multidisciplinary team that works in the operating theater, the nurses in the theater, anesthetists, clinical perfusionists, and other organ surgeons such as respiratory physicians, cardiologists, intensivists, oncologists, physiotherapists, and the administrative staff.

How to become a cardiothoracic surgeon?

The undergraduate medical students who wish to pursue a career in cardiothoracic surgery need to know that there is a long route for them to become one. The interested candidates need to join the surgical society already in their respective universities and attend the relevant conferences.

This will give an opportunity to them to explore the network as well as the field if they plan to become a future surgeon in the respective field.

The aspiring students can join certain associated societies, professional or institutional bodies that can guide them for their future and it will also enable them to stay up to date about the changes, etc. in the field.

During the foundation years of medical education, it is advised for the students to get in touch with the existing cardiothoracic surgeons at different hospitals. They will try to help you in a lot of ways whether it is audits or research related to the field.

Diseases treated by cardiothoracic surgeons

If a medical student is certain that they want to pursue a career in cardiothoracic surgery then it is advised that you apply for a training run-through program that is highly competitive but w immensely helpful at the same time.

On the other hand, if a student is still indecisive about whether he wants to pursue a career in cardiothoracic surgery or not then it is advised that first of all complete the core surgical training program lasts for about 2 to 3 years depending upon the courses opted.

At this time if you are certain that the specialization field you want to pursue is indeed cardiothoracic surgery then you need to get a high level of specialization to be an official cardiothoracic surgeon.

It is very important for you to develop interest and practical skills in cardiothoracic surgery as soon as possible so that you are well prepared about how to pursue the field and work on it by taking baby steps.

After you have completed your cardiothoracic surgery fellowship which provides advanced education and training through the hospital experience. Now a student is eligible to pursue the certification and become a certified cardiothoracic surgeon.

A thoracic surgery fellowship as discussed above will take about 2 to 3 years to be completed but it can, later on, be integrated by a cardiothoracic surgery residency that can last six years.

The certification will open new horizons for you. It will provide you with new job opportunities. To get a certification the foremost thing to be done by a cardiothoracic surgeon is to earn a state medical license and then complete thoracic and general residencies surgeries to earn a valid score on the board exams.

Other requirements of the board certifications are completion of medical education hours, submission of the letter of reference, and case summaries provided along with passing the exam every 10 years to validate that the knowledge is up to date and the said surgeon has been active in the field all along.

The subspecialties of cardiothoracic surgery

A lot of cardiothoracic surgeons develop an interest in different subspecialties while they are still studying and, on their way, to becoming certified surgeons Once they have completed the fundamental courses and studies, they move towards the additional training programs to excel at the subspecialties of their interest which are more complex areas.

The subspecialties of cardiothoracic surgery

Some of the complex subspecialties are:

  • Esophageal surgeries
  • Heart failure surgery
  • Heart transplant surgery
  • Cardiac surgery
  • Congenital cardiac surgery in children
  • Congenital surgery in adults
  • Thoracic surgery
  • Lung cancer resections
  • Advanced lung cancer surgery
  • Robotic thoracic surgery

How does a cardiothoracic surgeon differ from a pulmonologist or a cardiologist?

A cardiothoracic surgeon deals with the complexities that occur within the chest area. Now it involves the bony structure, tissues, and organs located inside the chest area. This means the horizon of the cardiothoracic surgeon is bigger compared to a cardiologist or a pulmonologist

For instance, a cardiologist is said to conclude the primary diagnosis of the disorders that occur in the heart and treat them with the help of medicine. Cardiologists can also work on the veins and arteries that surround the heart and make it work. They can also puncture the wounds into the groins BUT a cardiologist cannot perform surgery. He is not a surgeon, therefore if a treatment requires surgery, that is where a cardiothoracic surgeon steps in.

The same is the case for pulmonologists. A pulmonologist is a physician who diagnoses lung disorders and treats them through medication.  The pulmonologists can conduct different lab tests and other procedures on the patient and can also intervene in the airway but by no means are equipped or specialized to conduct an open surgery. If a case comes to them which requires surgery, then they are supposed to refer them to a cardiothoracic surgeon.


 If you are thinking about how to become a cardiothoracic surgeon, then here are some tips that might make your path easier.

You can optimize the medical school experience by writing, recording, and publishing the reports that you worked on along with your research work

Build up a network in the relevant field so that you have more chances of getting a job because of your experience in the field. Always seek a mentor or a senior along with attending networking events at the medical school.

Cardiothoracic surgery is a very vast field. It often collaborates with other teams dealing with pulmonary, cardiology, and renal issues and diseases to manage the post-surgery condition of a patient. It is always advisable for the student to have the know-how and learn about these specialties as well as it will assist them in the long run and will make them immensely amazing cardiothoracic surgeons.