What does a Cardiac Surgeon do?

D. Jeffress

A cardiac surgeon is a highly trained, licensed medical professional who performs various surgical procedures on human hearts. Assisted by other surgeons and nurses, he or she uses precision tools and robotic equipment to execute delicate operations. A cardiac surgeon usually performs operations by appointment, though he or she may be required to perform immediate, emergency surgeries in life threatening situations. Most surgeons are employed by large general hospitals and heart health centers, though some find work in private surgical offices.

Cardiac surgeons usually work at large hospitals.
Cardiac surgeons usually work at large hospitals.

Surgeons operate on people with various birth defects and those who have developed heart problems due to age, diet, cancer, or disease. He or she may conduct screening tests to determine the presence of physical abnormalities or functional problems, consult the patient and other physicians about the findings, and decide if invasive surgery is necessary. The cardiac surgeon conducts operations with great care, ensuring the safety of the patient to the best of his or her ability. After a procedure, the surgeon and operating room nurses often monitor the patient's vital signs and overall condition for a certain period of time, to ensure that the surgery was successful.

Cardiac surgeons are medical professionals who perform surgical procedures on human hearts.
Cardiac surgeons are medical professionals who perform surgical procedures on human hearts.

Some cardiac surgeons specialize with certain types of patients or procedures. A pediatric cardiac surgeon, for example, operates primarily on infants, children, and teenagers. He or she must have very specialized knowledge about the developing hearts and organs of young people. Another surgeon may choose to specialize in a special type of operation, such as open heart surgery or heart transplants. Some professionals have extensive knowledge of artificial hearts, pacemakers, and other implants.

Cardiac surgeons must keep up to date on the latest medical technology and surgical procedures.
Cardiac surgeons must keep up to date on the latest medical technology and surgical procedures.

To become a cardiac surgeon, a person must receive a bachelor's degree, usually in pre-medical studies, complete a four-year doctoral program at an accredited medical school, complete a yearlong internship at a hospital, and assume a seven to ten year residency. The last two to three years of a new surgeon's residency are dedicated exclusively to conducting supervised heart surgeries and related procedures. Upon completion of a residency, a new cardiac surgeon must take an extensive licensing exam administered by a nationally recognized governing organization.

A pediatric cardiac surgeon operates primarily on infants, children, and teenagers.
A pediatric cardiac surgeon operates primarily on infants, children, and teenagers.

Technological advances in medical technology and surgical procedures requires cardiac surgeons to engage in continuing education and stay up to date on medical news and journals. With a growing population of elderly citizens and the prevalence of new diseases and cancers, there is a strong demand for knowledgeable surgeons. Those with extensive computer expertise are in especially high demand, as many pieces of modern screening and operative machinery require surgeons to program equipment and interpret data.

Cardiac surgeons perform open-heart surgeries.
Cardiac surgeons perform open-heart surgeries.

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Discussion Comments


@irontoenail - Well, there has been a lot of progress on using technology to practice surgery in the last few decades and I wonder how long it's going to be before surgery can mostly be done with machines.

I don't mean that it will eliminate the need to have surgeons altogether, but heart surgery in particular often needs the most delicate touch possible and a machine is often going to be more precise than a person. I just wonder what the shift will mean for salaries and the number of people going into surgery, cardiac or otherwise, if it becomes more about running and supervising a machine than doing the cutting yourself.


@bythewell - The top cardiac surgeons do still get paid quite a lot, but there are still not enough of them. You're right, it's a very difficult job and one that requires not only extreme dedication but also natural talent and skill. There just aren't all that many people who can qualify, and some of those people are going to become lawyers and chefs instead because they don't want the stress.

Top cardiac surgeons are a rare breed and something hospitals consider a resource that needs to be kept and nurtured, so they pay them as much as they have to.


For a while it really annoyed me how much a doctor makes compared to other professions. I know they have very stressful jobs, but some of them get paid ten or more times what a teacher gets paid and I would argue that a teacher's job is almost as important and possibly just as stressful.

But when you look at how much schooling a doctor has to go through in order to become a doctor, particularly if they specialize in something like cardiac surgery, you can understand the pay. Not so much that they "deserve" it more than other professionals, but just that the pay needs to be that much to coax more people into the job. Because you'd need to pay me that much to make me go through a decade or more of schooling, so that I could then work more than 80 hours a week.

And you want to make the field competitive so that you get the best, rather than what they, unfortunately currently get with many teachers, which is a lot of people who couldn't get a job elsewhere (apologies to anyone who teaches because they love it. My point is that you should be paid more).

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