Though children are often thought of as miniature versions of their parents, the treatments used to correct diseases and conditions in adults aren’t necessarily suited for little bodies. Surgical repairs of the heart and vessels must be tailored to their small size. They must also accommodate for their growth rate and development. It can take years for a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon to master the surgical procedures needed to repair a child’s failing heart, but it’s often well worth the time. Not only do these specialists improve the quality of life for kids, but they’re also handsomely compensated.
A survey by the Medical Group Management Association found that pediatric surgeons were the 15th highest-paid specialists of hospital-employed physicians. As of 2011, salaries averaged at $505,281 a year. Pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons were the third highest, bringing home nearly 35 percent more, at an average of $681,408. A 2010 MGMA survey placed salaries even higher, at an average of $762,846 for this surgical specialty. But this figure was regardless of employer, as hospital-based surgeons tend to earn less than those in other practice settings, such as group practices and health care organizations.
Six-figure salaries are just as common at the start of a surgeon’s career as for those with years of experience. As of 2011, half of all pediatric surgeons just entering the field earned at least $295,000 a year, according to a survey by Profiles, an online resource for the physician recruiting industry. Cardiothoracic surgeons earned 22 percent more than this, starting at a median wage of $360,000 a year.
Training for this specialty has a lot to do with the six-figure salaries. As with any doctor or surgeon, training begins in a four-year undergraduate program before moving on to medical school -- another four-year commitment. In addition to the eight years of schooling, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons must go through a residency program, which takes a minimum of six years to complete. From there, many go on to fellowship programs, tacking on another one to two years in training.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment for all U.S. occupations to grow by as much as 14 percent between 2010 and 2020. This is nearly half the average for surgeons in general, at a projected growth of 24 percent through 2020.