How to Become a Cardiothoracic Surgeon in 8 Steps?

How to become a Cardiothoracic Surgeon How to become a Cardiothoracic Surgeon

How to Become a Cardiothoracic Surgeon?

Cardiothoracic surgeons are doctors who provide surgical treatment for chest problems.

These surgeons are trained to treat ailments affecting the lungs, heart, esophagus and other organs in the chest.

Cardiothoracic surgeons also treat diseases, such as bony structure issues in the chest. They also treat diseases affecting chest organs, such as coronary artery disease.

What Does a Cardiothoracic Surgeon Do?

A cardiothoracic surgeon uses surgical methods to treat problems occurring around the heart. For instance, these surgeons can treat heart conditions effectively.

As with other fields in medicine, there are multiple sub-specialties within cardiothoracic surgery too. These include:

  • Adult cardiac surgery
  • Children’s cardiac surgery
  • Congenital cardiac surgery
  • General thoracic surgery (treat problems affecting the esophagus and lungs)
  • Heart and lung transplant surgery

Cardiothoracic surgeons also handle multiple responsibilities, such as:

  • Offering evaluation and diagnoses
  • Developing patient treatment plans
  • Suggesting non-surgical treatment alternatives
  • Consulting with patients to alleviate worries before surgical treatment
  • Affixing cardiac implants (pacemakers)
  • Performing minimally invasive catheter-based surgical operations
  • Performing robotic cardiac surgery
  • Monitoring patients in intensive care
  • Updating patients about the progress of recovery post-surgery

How to Become a Cardiothoracic Surgeon in the USA?

Cardiothoracic surgeons need to put in extra-long hours at work. People who are adept with science and math with a passion for serving patients can choose to become cardiothoracic surgeons.

However, the education, training and certification process for cardiothoracic surgeons is one of the longest in comparison with other medical specialties.

How to become a Cardiothoracic Surgeon in the USA

How to Become a Cardiothoracic Surgeon in the USA

On average, it takes up to 16 years of education and training to become a completely certified cardiothoracic surgeon.

Here are the 8 steps to becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon:

1 – Earn an undergraduate degree

First, you will need to earn an undergraduate degree, preferably with a pre-med course. This comes in handy when you seek admission into accredited medical schools.

You should choose to pursue an undergraduate degree in science.

Your course should include topics such as chemistry, math and biology. To gain entry into a reputed medical school, you will need to score a GPA of 3.5 or more.

During this time, you will also need to prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The MCAT score also matters to get admission into a leading medical school in the US.

2 – Volunteer in patient care

You should also try and volunteer at clinics and hospitals. This gives you first-hand experience and helps you figure out if being a cardiothoracic surgeon is the best career option for you.

To find volunteering opportunities, you can contact your local hospitals and enquire about any available volunteer position.

3 – Take MCAT Exam

The first step to becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon is to appear for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) exam.

This is essential to get admission into an accredited medical school in the United States.

For the MCAT, you will need to focus on four topics:

  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

4 – Pass medical school

You will need to enroll in and pass medical school with a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. It will take 4 years to complete medical school.

The first two years are focused on lectures and labs in classroom settings. You may also choose an elective in surgery during these two years.

The last two years of medical school involve clinical practice. So, find out rotations for cardiothoracic and other surgeries for relevant experience.

5 – Earn a license to practice medicine

Once you pass medical school with excellent grades, you will need to apply for a medical practitioner’s license.

Make sure to check the eligibility criteria and application process for medical licenses as these vary from state to state.

You will need to appear for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

6 – Complete residency in general surgery

Once you have successfully cracked the USMLE, you should choose a general surgery residency.

This usually combines research opportunities, clinical experience, operating room experience and attending medical conferences.

Residency for general surgery usually lasts for around 5 years. In the first 2 years, you will most likely study critical areas of surgery, such as cardiovascular surgery.

The next 3 years or so would include assisting and performing surgeries. This is also a great time to pursue rotations in specialized surgery.

Enquire at your medical school for relevant general surgery residency opportunities.

7 – Finish cardiothoracic surgery fellowship

A fellowship for cardiothoracic surgery is a great opportunity for advanced training and education. This is achieved in a hospital setting.

During the fellowship, you will gain specialized experience with cardiothoracic surgery. This way, you can fulfill the requirements imposed by the American Board of Thoracic Surgery (ABTS) which is necessary for board certification.

A cardiothoracic surgery fellowship usually lasts between 2 and 3 years. However, some surgeons participate in a 6-year integrated cardiothoracic surgery residency for relevant experience.

8 – Get board certification

Board certification through ABTS is incredibly helpful in getting a better-paying surgeon’s job. To earn this certification, you must first acquire a state practitioner’s license.

Then, you will need to complete general and cardiothoracic surgery residencies. This needs to be done to score satisfactorily in the board examination.

Apart from this, you may also need to complete additional medical education hours. You may also need to present letters of reference case summaries and pass the certification exam every 10 years.


Cardiothoracic surgeons are among the most important aspects of a comprehensive healthcare setting. They work directly in patient care.

Cardiothoracic surgeons’ annual salary is on the higher average as compared to other types of surgeons and physicians.

If you are passionate about alleviating pain through surgical treatments, then you should consider becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon.

See Also

How to Become a Plastic Surgeon

What is NRMP

How to Become a Dentist

Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education

How to Become a Dermatologist

I am a dedicated healthcare researcher and an enthusiast specializing in medical grants, medical education and research. Through my articles, I aim to empower healthcare professionals and researchers with valuable insights and resources to navigate these critical aspects effectively.

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