Working life (cardiothoracic surgery)

This page provides useful information on the working week as well as any on-call and other commitments, along with information on who you will work with. The attractions and challenges of the job are also in this section.

“I love my job because it is so rewarding to be able to help people so effectively. I also really enjoy working with very committed people from the staff who clean the hospital and look after the grounds to my most experienced medical and nursing colleagues. It’s great to be in an innovative environment and to work with new technology. The operations are always developing and change is part of the culture. There are huge research opportunities. There is never a boring day."  Mr Aman Coonar, Consultant Surgeon - Papworth Hospital, Cambridge

Only a part of your working week will be spent in the operating theatre - usually about two or three days. Your working day in theatre may be very long – some cardiothoracic operations can take up to 12 hours and may take place at night. The number of operations you perform will depend on the area you work in and could vary from one to several each day.

Before surgery you’ll meet with patients and their families to discuss and explain procedures and offer reassurance.

Monitoring patients in intensive care after surgery is a vital part of your work. Although cardiothoracic surgery is very safe, complications can occasionally occur, including arrhythmias (heart-beat irregularity), post-operative bleeding, stroke, pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs), wound infection or thrombosis.

As well as performing surgery, cardiothoracic surgeons are involved in the treatment and management of many different conditions within their specialty. You’ll also be expected to contribute to research and there will be the opportunity to present your results at conferences both in the UK and overseas. About a day each week might be spent on research, administration and meetings. Many surgeons are also involved in lecturing and writing articles and books.

Although most surgery is elective (pre-booked, non-emergency) cardiothoracic surgeons are often needed for on call and out of hours work during evenings and weekends. The demand for on calls can be considerable and is often higher than the requirement within other surgical specialties due to the nature of the work. One in three on call is not unusual (which includes weekends).

The EU Working Time Directive limits the working week to 48 hours..

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