A cardiovascular surgeon is a specially trained medical professional who performs operations on the heart and blood vessels. These surgeons are commonly referred to as heart surgeons. In the United States (US), they may also be called cardiothoracic surgeons, as they are often trained to also operate on other organs in the thoracic cavity, such as the lungs and esophagus.
To become a cardiovascular surgeon, a person must go through many years of training. Generally, the process begins with obtaining an undergraduate degree. Then the person usually moves on to medical school, followed by several years in a general surgery residency, plus additional training specifically in cardiovascular surgery. Some residency programs allow the physician to train directly as a cardiovascular surgeon, skipping the general surgery training. Once cardiovascular training is complete, surgeons then generally need board certification in the region in which they plan to practice before they can begin performing surgery on their own.
Disorders that may require the skills of a cardiovascular surgeon include coronary artery disease, congenital heart defects, abnormal heart rhythms, and heart failure. The most common type of cardiovascular surgery is a coronary bypass, which involves rerouting blood flow to the heart by bypassing a blocked coronary artery. A far less common, but more highly publicized, surgery is heart transplantation, which involves removing a diseased heart and replacing it with a healthy donor heart.
Most cardiovascular surgeries have traditionally been performed by fully opening the thoracic cavity to expose the heart and allow the cardiovascular surgeon to reach his or her hands inside. In recent years, minimally invasive techniques are becoming more common. These procedures often involve the use of robot-assisted technology that allows the surgeon to make smaller incisions in the chest and complete the operation with the robot acting as his or her hands.
As a medical specialty, cardiovascular surgery offers room for growth and discovery of new techniques. The field of cardiovascular surgery is still relatively young, having begun in earnest in the 1950s. Many life-saving surgery techniques have been created since then, but there is still opportunity in the field to advance new technologies and improve patient outcomes.
Cardiovascular surgery also offers the chance to specialize. For example, some surgeons may choose to work in an academic setting, thereby providing training and mentoring for future cardiovascular surgeons. Others may choose to become pediatric cardiovascular surgeons. These surgeons focus exclusively on treating children and the heart problems unique to them, which are often congenital. Still, others may focus solely on adults, treating the disorders and diseases that more commonly develop with age.