Sometimes surgeries can mean the difference between life and death. Cardiovascular surgeons -- also referred to as cardiac or cardiothoracic surgeons -- often perform life-saving surgeries such as open-heart operations and organ transplants. Because of the high risk associated with this work, the barriers to entry into cardiovascular surgery are high. However, medical students with the proper medical education and residency training can eventually earn salaries within the six-figure range.
Cardiovascular surgeons starting out in the field perform a wide range of medical and surgery procedures that focus on the heart, lungs, chest cavity, esophagus and blood vessels. They examine patients and diagnose whether they have heart disease or other conditions that affect blood flow or heart function. In addition to operating different tools, instruments and medical technologies during surgery, cardiovascular surgeons follow up with patients after operations and monitor their recovery. They also determine if patients require further testing or medical treatment. According to a June 2011 Salary.com report, cardiothoracic surgeons with two to four years of work experience in cardiothoracic surgery averaged $401,325 per year.
The educational track to cardiovascular surgery is a long one compared to other fields. Prior to becoming a cardiovascular surgeon, students must complete four years of undergraduate work, four years of medical school and a three- to eight-year residency and internship depending on school and state requirements. Trainees learn how to perform general surgery during their residency program. However some universities offer residency programs that focus specifically on cardiothoracic surgery. Cardiothoracic surgery includes medical procedures involving the heart, lungs and chest cavity. As of January 2010, New York University’s three-year Cardiothoracic Surgery Residency Program paid trainees in NYU’s Langone Medical Center salaries ranging from $57,755 to $75,226 annually. NYU cardiothoracic trainees assigned to Bellevue Hospital Center earned salaries ranging between $58,758 and $76,577, as of October 2009. Bellevue resident salaries also included meal stipends.
Residents in cardiothoracic training programs receive meal stipends and additional benefits such as insurance coverage and vacation time. For example, the cardiothoracic residency program at the University of Oklahoma awarded residents with compensation packages including health insurance, professional liability insurance and three weeks of paid vacation per year. Travel expenses to professional meetings and events were also subsidized under the program. As of July 2010, cardiothoracic residents at the University of Oklahoma earned annual salaries ranging between $54,794 and $57,289.
Once cardiovascular and cardiothoracic surgery residents satisfy their training requirements and receive board certification from the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, candidates can begin practicing as licensed surgeons. Entry-level cardiovascular surgeons can either perform surgeries in hospitals or start their own medical practice. The average starting salaries for cardiovascular surgeons are much higher than the national average for other professions. For example, a 2003-2006 Allied Physicians survey stated that the lowest reported salary for cardiovascular surgeons was $351,108 per year. The highest reported salary for cardiovascular surgeons was a high as $852,717 per year.