Cardiac surgeons perform a variety of surgical procedures to treat heart disease and dysfunction. As is the case with all surgical careers, cardiac surgeons must complete a thorough course of training. In addition to medical school and general surgery training, those interested in a career in cardiac surgery must complete a residency program in the field. During residency, individuals are able to observe experienced cardiac surgeons as they operate, and gain hands-on experience with surgical procedures and techniques.
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Most cardiac surgery residency programs combine work in cardiac surgery and thoracic surgery, and are known as cardiothoracic residencies. Those interested in a career as a cardiac surgeon must declare their preference for the cardiac track. Generally, cardiac residencies are two to three years long. To be eligible for acceptance into a cardiac surgery residency, individuals must have completed a residency in general surgery and passed the American Board of Surgery's exam. In addition, many programs prefer that candidates have one to two years of lab research experience.
Cardiac surgery residents study under cardiac faculty members who have significant surgical experience. They are often required to attend weekly interdisciplinary conferences with other departments, such as cardiology, radiology and pathology. Cardiac surgery residents may also participate in departmental meetings and conferences on a variety of topics, including paediatric cardiac surgery, adult cardiac catheterisation and surgical grand rounds. Residents are expected to work long hours, and often have to be part of an on-call team.
In a cardiac surgery residency, residents focus on grasping the proper evaluation of cardiac performance and the best treatments for cardiac dysfunction. Residents are also trained in all facets of pre- and post-operative care, and learn other medical management techniques, such as drugs, pacing and intra-aortic balloons and left ventricular assist devices. During the cardiac surgery residency, residents are afforded the opportunity to serve as first assistant in many areas of cardiac surgery, such as myocardial revascularization, congenital cardiac surgery and mitral and aortic valve replacements. They gain experience in placing chest tubes, intra-arterial lines and central venous catheters. In some cases, residents are also able to serve as primary surgeons. Many residency programs also require work in outpatient clinics so residents can become accustomed to caring for patients.
During a cardiac surgery residency, residents see patients with a variety of cardiac issues. These may include coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease and valve malfunction. Residents may also work with heart transplant patients and spend time on both adult and paediatric cases.
After completing the cardiac surgery residency, many cardiac surgeons go on to post-residency fellowships. In fellowship programs, surgeons are able to receive additional training in cardiac surgery. Fellowships are not required, but many surgeons choose to complete them in order to improve their surgical techniques. During a cardiac surgery fellowship, individuals may be required to complete research projects and write articles for peer-reviewed journals.
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- University of Alabama School of Medicine: Cardiothoracic Surgery Residency Training Program
- UCLA Department of Surgery: Cardiothoracic Surgery Training Program
- Weill Cornell Medical College Cardiothoracic Surgery: Residency Program
- Baylor College of Medicine: Residency, Cardiothoracic Surgery, Overview