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Career Information for a Thoracic Surgeon

    Job Duties

    • Thoracic surgeons perform surgical procedures that deal with the heart, esophagus, lungs, blood vessels and other body parts located in the chest. The scope of care thoracic surgeons provide includes meeting with patients prior to surgery to perform physicals or evaluations and answering questions the patient or her family may have in regard to the surgery. Thoracic surgeons also evaluate a patient’s recovery after surgery to ensure she is healing properly and not experiencing any complications. If complications are found, a thoracic surgeon may need to perform additional surgeries or consult with other physicians and surgeons to correct the problem.

    Work Environment

    • The work environment of a thoracic surgeon is medical in nature and may include working in a hospital, clinic or private medical office. Due to the nature of surgery, which can include scheduled and emergency surgeries, thoracic surgeons may find themselves working long, nontraditional work hours, including evenings and weekends. Thoracic surgeons should be able to work on a team of medical professionals, including nurses, other surgeons and physicians, and technicians to provide comprehensive care to thoracic patients.


    • Thoracic surgeons are medical doctors who have completed extensive schooling in order to practice their specialty. This includes a four-year undergraduate degree, medical school, which usually lasts three to four years, and a six- to eight-year residency in thoracic surgery. High school and college students who desire to pursue a career in thoracic surgery should focus on courses in the sciences, such as biology, anatomy and physiology and chemistry, as well as mathematics.


    • Thoracic surgeons who wish to advance in their careers may do so by pursuing a sub-specialty, such as congenital cardiac surgery, which involves resolving birth defects of the heart and blood vessels. Thoracic surgeons can advance in their careers by opening their own surgical medical group or by pursuing a career outside of thoracic surgery, such as hospital administration or academic work.

    Salary and Career Outlook

    • The Association of American of Medical Colleges reports that the annual salary for thoracic surgeons is between $245,000 and $621,000 as of January 2009. This figure is dependent upon employer, experience and cost of living. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that career outlook for physicians and surgeons, including thoracic surgeons, is very good and expected to grow quickly when compared to all other occupations.

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