Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the U.S. Cardiac surgeons, or heart surgeons, provide intervention to treat the disease. After years of intense study and specialized training, a heart surgeon typically earns between $300,000 and $450,000 a year.
Depending on the subspecialty, a heart surgeon might be called a cardiac surgeon, a cardiovascular surgeon or a cardiothoracic surgeon. Types of surgery performed by these highly trained specialists include valve repair and replacement, coronary bypass, transplantation, heart defect repair and aneurysm repair. Heart surgery can also include repair of blood vessels in the body and implantation of mechanical devices that help a diseased or failing heart do its job of pumping blood through the body.
The professional education of a cardiac surgeon begins with medical school, which is four years of training beyond the bachelor's degree. Medical school admissions are competitive, and successful applicants usually have earned an undergraduate grade-point average of at least 3.6. Although there is no formal requirement for a major, candidates for medical school must have a strong background in life sciences, chemistry, mathematics, physics and psychology. Typically, they must achieve a score of 510 or higher on the Medical School Admissions Test (MCAT).
After earning a medical degree, an aspiring cardiac surgeon must first complete a residency in general surgery. The residency, requiring five to seven years to complete, provides advanced training in surgical treatment of disease in all areas of the body. Another two to four years of additional training is required for cardiothoracic surgery, which deals with the organs of the chest and upper abdomen. Even more training is required for cardiothoracic surgeons who choose to specialize further and limit their practice to the cardiovascular system, which consists of the heart's arteries and valves.
A cardiologist completes medical school and then a three-year residency in internal medicine, followed by four to six years of residency in cardiology. Cardiologists perform some invasive procedures, but their training is designed to prepare them to diagnose and treat patients with immediate cardiovascular problems and to oversee long-term care, often for the rest of a patient's life and in conjunction with a primary care physician.
Heart surgeons may consult with patients in an office setting before and after an operation. Most of their time is spent in the operating room, whether at a community hospital or large medical center. Heart surgeons are part of a health care team that includes physicians, nurses, rehabilitative specialists and other health care personnel. Cardiac surgeons practicing in university-affiliated medical centers may lecture medical students and residents. They may supervise students and residents in clinical settings.
Years of Experience and Salary
A cardiothoracic surgeon salary in the U.S. is about $454,325 annually. The figure represents the median salary, meaning half in the profession earn more while half earn less. The median yearly salary for a cardiovascular surgeon is $306,635. Factors that influence a heart surgeon salary or transplant surgeon salary include geographic location, years of experience and level of specialization. Bonuses, health care and retirement benefits can boost total compensation significantly.
Job Growth Trend
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which makes projections for job growth, estimates that the demand for physicians and surgeons in all specialties will increase by 13 percent through 2026. That's faster than average growth compared to all other professions. Although the Bureau does not track heart surgeons specifically, it projects a greater need for physicians and surgeons as the population both increases and ages.