What is Thoracic Surgery?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2019
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Thoracic surgery is a surgical specialty which is focused on procedures involving the chest, more formally known as the thorax. It may also be known as cardiothoracic surgery; cardiothoracic surgeons focus on heart and lung surgery in particular. This surgical specialty can be highly competitive and extremely challenging, but many thoracic surgeons also say that it is extremely rewarding. In addition to working in a medical practice, a thoracic surgeon can also work in research, developing new techniques and technologies to improve his or her medical field.

In order to become a thoracic surgeon, a doctor must complete medical school and a residency in general surgery, followed by a fellowship in thoracic or cardiothoracic surgery. In some countries, cardiac surgery is an entirely separate discipline with its own medical specialists, while in the United States, cardiac surgery is considered a branch of thoracic surgery. If a thoracic surgeon wants to choose a subspecialty, an additional fellowship may be required. Board certification in thoracic surgery is also an option, though it is not required for medical practice.


Thoracic surgeons operate on the heart, lungs, lymph nodes, esophagus, and diaphragm. They may also work with other surgeons on complex cases which require a surgical team. Thoracic surgeons are also important members of organ recovery teams, since the heart and chest area must be carefully managed during organ recovery to keep the donor's organs viable. Surgeons can also choose to specialize in things like thoracic surgery for children, or the treatment of pulmonary conditions.

In the medical community, thoracic surgery has a reputation as a high-risk specialty with a lot of big egos. While open heart surgery and other cardiothoracic procedures can certainly be dramatic, thoracic surgeons are well aware that they work as part of larger teams, and this surgical discipline actually places a high value on cooperation and networking with other medical specialists. A thoracic surgeon relies on a highly trained support team of other surgeons, scrub nurses, and hospital personnel.

Patients are referred to a thoracic surgeon when it becomes apparent that they have chest conditions which require surgical treatment. Heart disease, lung disease, and other cardiac problems are extremely common in many parts of the world, meaning that specialists in this discipline are rarely bored. Some doctors of thoracic surgery also try to dedicate time every year to charitable work, either in their communities or in developing nations as part as mercy missions to communities in need.


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Post 5

My fiancee had a car accident two days ago, and the doctor says they need to do a thoracic surgery on the chest because he hit his chest on some object.

They brought him to ICU while unconscious and in critical condition, but the doctors says that he will be O.K. after the surgery. Is this a very dangerous surgery, and how long will he need to recover after the surgery and can he fly back home here in the US, or does he need a complete rest and for how long in order for him to travel? Please let me know.

Post 3

@serfer, I personally think that might be true for any sort of surgeon. Surgery in general demands a certain level of patience, attention to detail, and memory for things like charts and graphs that I know I cannot handle. However, I think many people who have a profession in surgery also feel that it is where they ought to be, and what they ought to be doing; for them, it's just what they do, at least most of the time.

Post 1

Not too long ago, my grandmother had a collapsed lung and had to have immediate thoracic surgery. I have to say though, after seeing the way that the thoracic surgeons handled the case, I don't envy them their jobs. I really can't imagine a more stressful and involved profession!

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