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What Does a Thoracic Surgeon Do?

By Britt Archer
Updated: Mar 02, 2024

Thoracic surgeons, sometimes called cardiothoracic surgeons or cardiovascular thoracic surgeons, are licensed medical professionals who perform surgery on the part of the human body known as the thorax. The thorax, a Greek word meaning “breastplate,” contains the area between the neck and the abdomen. A thoracic surgeon operates on the organs contained within the chest, specifically the heart and lungs. This type of surgeon concentrates solely on that one area of the body, and does not venture into the many other areas where a general surgeon would go.

Thoracic surgeons are primarily responsible for performing cardiac surgery to ensure proper blood supply to the heart. They ensure that the valves of the heart are working correctly and they also manage diseases, which means they also may perform heart transplants. A thoracic surgeon can implant a pacemaker, an electrical device that keeps the heart beating on a regular schedule. They treat, diagnose and perform follow-up care for patients receiving these services.

This surgeon may also concentrate on the areas of the lungs and esophagus, providing treatments for lung cancer, emphysema and the damage caused by gastroesophageal reflux. Lung transplants and the removal of tumors from the chest wall are also the realm of a cardiovascular thoracic surgeon. In addition to performing surgery, these surgeons may also work in the fields of research or education.

Thoracic surgeons with special training may also handle congenital heart defects in children. These surgeons who work with children are required to have special training in pediatric care. While explaining a medical problem to adults can be a bit easier, a thoracic surgeon who works with children must be able to explain the problem in a way that a child would understand, and also calm their fears while explaining to the parents what's going on.

Like most medical careers, those who wish to become thoracic surgeons must obtain a large amount of education. This type of surgeon especially is considered one of the most highly educated doctors. He or she must complete four years of undergraduate study, postgraduate medical school, five years of a surgical residency program and then devote two to three more years to a thoracic surgery residency.

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Discussion Comments
By Ceptorbi — On Feb 24, 2014

@SimpleByte - I agree that cardiothoracic surgery requires an expertise that can only come from years of intensive study. After completion of their residencies, thoracic surgeons engage in continuing medical education by attending conferences and seminars and subscribing to medical journals. They can also join the Society of Thoracic Surgeons to network with other physicians in their specialty and keep apprised of the latest surgical techniques, medications, and medical technologies.

By SimpleByte — On Feb 23, 2014

The amount of education that thoracic surgeons need is indeed several years more than most medical specialties require. Most specialties require an undergraduate degree, medical school, a one-year internship, and a three-year residency. A one- to two-year fellowship after completion of a residency is optional. Thoracic surgeons, in contrast, must complete two residencies for a total of seven to eight years of study. Since so many vital organs are located in the chest, though, I'm glad thoracic surgeons are so highly trained.

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