Cardiothoracic surgery

A cardiothoracic surgeon is a specialist who operates on the heart, lungs, oesophagus and other thoracic (chest) organs. As well as performing surgery, they also diagnose and treat diseases of these organs.

This page provides useful information on the nature of the work, the common procedures/interventions, sub-specialties and other roles that may interest you.

picture of a surgeon

Nature of the work

Cardiothoracic surgery is one of the most challenging and demanding areas of surgery. It is also highly competitive with a relatively small number of jobs. But it is also extremely rewarding, since diseases of the chest are a major cause of ill-health and death throughout the world.

As a cardiothoracic surgeon you will see the immediate and often life-changing results of your work. Since the end of the Second World War cardiothoracic surgery has seen rapid growth, coupled with fast-paced technological changes. The specialty is relatively young and is still evolving.

Highly specialised heart and lung transplant surgery is performed in eight specialist centres in the UK. These units have international reputations and are centres of excellence for clinical work and research.

The main areas of cardiothoracic surgery are:

Monitoring patients in intensive care is a vital part of the work. Although cardiothoracic surgery is very safe, complications can 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. This involves attendance at outpatient clinics, multi-disciplinary team meetings and ward rounds.

Cardiac surgeons perform various kinds of surgery including:

Thoracic surgeons perform a wide range of surgery including:

Congenital cardiac surgeons treat babies and children with heart diseases that have been present from birth. They perform surgery to treat:

Most surgeons specialise in one of the areas listed above, although a minority have a mixed practice to include thoracic and adult cardiac.

"When I’m in theatre I just can’t believe how fortunate I am as I love my job! I really enjoy being part of such a close-knit inspirational team, which is like an extended family. We all appreciate one another’s individual roles."   Alia Noorani, Specialist surgical trainee, Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

Read Alia's Story

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