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Cardiovascular surgery, also known as heart surgery, is a high-stress, intense job where your skills and training may mean the difference between a patient living or dying. Becoming this type of surgeon takes many years of education and training. Cardiovascular surgeons make high salaries, but their job also involves many high stakes.
Education and Training
A bachelor's degree followed by four years of medical school are just the beginning for someone who wants to be a cardiovascular surgeon. Following medical school, a prospective surgeon needs five years of general surgery residency and then a few more years in a specialized cardiovascular fellowship. In addition, they must get a certification from the American Board of Medical Specialists and, if they want, certification in cardiothoracic surgery.
Cardiovascular surgeons perform numerous different treatments on the heart. This can include valve replacement, heart bypass surgery and fixing congenital heart defects. Some surgeons also perform heart transplants and insert pacemakers. Their work is not limited to the heart, however. Cardiovascular surgeons also work on arteries such as the carotid artery in the neck and treat lung and esophagus issues.
In order to be a good cardiovascular surgeon, a doctor must stay cool under pressure and be able to think on his feet and improvise at the last minute in case something unexpected goes wrong during surgery. But a cardiovascular surgeon's work isn't only in the operating room. He should have a good bedside manner so he can effectively communicate treatment options and help patients recover. He should also be in good physical shape, able to stand for hours at a time.
A cardiovascular surgeon's work involves long, grueling hours. Surgeries can last 4 to 6 hours or longer. The surgeon also has to be on-call frequently, as heart emergencies can happen at unexpected times. Surgeons who want a less stressful work environment might turn to teaching instead.
Cardiovascular surgeons are among the top-paid surgeons. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, general surgeons in general made a median yearly salary of $343,958 in 2010, with specialty surgeons making even more. Salary is dependent on years of experience and geographic location. In 2011, according to the BLS, surgeons received the highest salaries when they worked in research and development offices, owned their own doctor's offices, worked for the state government or for specialty hospitals.
- State University: Heart Surgeon
- Iowa.gov: Cardiovascular Surgeon -- What They Do
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons -- Pay
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011 -- Surgeons
With features published by media such as Business Week and Fox News, Stephanie Dube Dwilson is an accomplished writer with a law degree and a master's in science and technology journalism. She has written for law firms, public relations and marketing agencies, science and technology websites, and business magazines.