Heart surgeons and cardiologists are medical doctors specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of heart and blood vessel diseases. Patients do not make appointments directly with these specialists, but must be referred by primary care physicians. The heart surgeon salary range is between $363,089 and $567,769, depending on a variety of factors. The average annual salary for a cardiologist is $358,646.
Cardiologists diagnose and treat diseases and conditions including heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure, valve problems and arrhythmias, which are heart rhythm problems. Cardiologists perform physical exams of their patients, order specialized tests and interpret the results, and prescribe treatments. Noninvasive cardiology treatment includes prescription medication and lifestyle changes. Interventional cardiology involves invasive management of heart disease, usually through catheterization.
Heart surgeons, also called cardiac or cardiothoracic surgeons, perform surgical procedures to treat diseases such as leaks and blockages in the heart valves, heart failure, coronary artery disease, atrial fibrillation and aneurysms of the large arteries of the chest.
Becoming a heart surgeon or cardiologist requires years of intense study. The first step is a bachelor's degree. Although there is no formal requirement for a major, the degree must prepare a student for medical school. Undergraduate curriculum should include life sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics, psychology and communications. Admission to medical school is highly competitive. Successful applicants typically have an undergraduate GPA of 3.6 or higher. They must also score over 500 on the Medical School Admissions Test (MCAT), which is typically taken at the end of the junior year.
Medical school requires four years. During the first two years, students participate in lecture and laboratory courses in advanced life sciences and pharmacology. The third and fourth years include supervised clinical practice as medical students work with licensed physicians to provide patient diagnoses and care. Medical school graduates earn the medical doctor, or MD, degree. They must pass a licensing exam before continuing their studies.
Becoming a cardiologist requires six to eight years of additional training beyond medical school. Physicians wishing to specialize in cardiology undergo training in general internal medicine as well as topics including catheterization, radiographic imaging, coronary anatomy and angiography, and circulatory support. Specialization in pediatric cardiology requires an additional residency in pediatrics.
Becoming a cardiac surgeon requires at least eight years of specialized study beyond medical school. Physicians must complete a five-year residency in general surgery before an additional three years focused on cardiac surgery.
Cardiologists and cardiac surgeons work in private and group practices. To perform surgery, they must be affiliated with a hospital or medical center. Cardiologists and cardiac surgeons work with other health-care professionals, including primary care physicians, specialty physicians, nurses and administrative support staff. There are cardiologists and cardiac surgeons who work in military and Veterans Administration hospitals. Some conduct research, while others teach and supervise clinical practice in medical schools.
Salaries of cardiologists and heart surgeons vary according to a number of factors, including geographic location, type of practice and years of experience. Here are some annual salary ranges after completion of medical school and specialty training:
- Less than 1 year of experience: $322,959-$364,319
- 3-4 years of experience: $326,141-$367,500
- 7+ years of experience: $334,625-$374,924.
- Less than 1 year of experience: $186,000-$211,000
- 3-4 years of experience: $205,000 - $232,000
- 7+ years of experience: $218,000-$249,000.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 13 percent job growth for all physicians and surgeons over the next decade, a rate that is faster than average compared with all other jobs. Although figures are not available for cardiologists and cardiac surgeons specifically, the job growth rate is likely comparable, if not higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control, incidence of heart disease continues to rise in the U.S. and remains the leading cause of death. Increased rates of heart disease, and aging of baby boomers and the general population will keep cardiologists and cardiac surgeons in high demand.