Definition of a Thoracic Surgeon


A thoracic surgeon is a physician specifically trained to specialize in treating the organs of the chest. These doctors operate on the vital organs that are in the chest area, such as the heart and lungs, in addition to other organs that are positioned around and work with those two.


  • Thoracic surgeon is a general category that includes a few different types of doctors. The general thoracic surgeon takes responsibility for treatment of the lungs, along with the esophagus and the wall that surrounds the chest cavity. A second category of thoracic surgeon is the cardiovascular surgeon. This is the doctor more commonly referred to as a heart surgeon, as the heart is his area of expertise. There is also a category of thoracic surgeon with specific training to treat the developing organs in infants and very young children. These doctors are called congenital heart surgeons.


  • With the high degree of difficulty involved with treating diseases of the heart and lungs, the educational requirements for thoracic surgery are intense. After a four-year undergraduate degree and a four-year run through medical school to become an M.D., there is a five-year medical residency for general surgery. This residency is performed at a hospital. Once that is completed, there is an additional two- to three-year hitch in a thoracic surgery-specific residency program. There is an additional residency required for doctors who specialize as congenital heart surgeons.


  • A doctor who is practicing as a thoracic surgeon must be board certified, which requires her to have completed all of the educational requirements and passed a licensing examination that includes both a written and verbal test. To stay board certified, ongoing education is require, as is a proven commitment to good medical ethics.


  • Thoracic surgeons treat illnesses that occur with the organs of the chest. Those include things like coronary artery disease, emphysema and lung cancer. They also care for patients who have holes in or blockage in the heart or lungs. Congenital heart surgeons typically treat issues that arise with infants and young children, such as abnormalities in the heart chamber or problems in the development of the lungs. These doctors are also called in to deal with issues related to difficulty swallowing.


  • Thoracic surgeons perform many different types of surgical procedures. These include heart bypass operations, heart transplants, removal of parts of infected lungs or the esophagus when cancers develop, aortic repair and the insertion of shunts to open arteries.

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  • Photo Credit main surgeon image by Andrey Rakhmatullin from
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