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Cardiovascular Surgeon


The heart is a precious lifeline that keeps us alive. Yet so many people neglect their heart, engaging in detrimental habits and poor lifestyle choices. Did you know that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US? If you are obese, have diabetes, smoke or have high cholesterol, then your risks for contracting the disease are high. But cardiovascular surgeons - specialists who operate on the heart and blood vessels -- encourage people to quit smoking, start exercising and eat healthier, which will result in a healthier heat and lifestyle.

Cardiovascular surgeon performs operations on the heart and blood vessels of the body. There are a number of different types of operations on the heart, including replacement of heart valves, or bypasses of blocked coronary arteries. Specific surgeries include: permanent transvenous pacemaker insertion and follow-up care, cardiac surgery of the coronary artery (bypass), surgical treatment of valvular heart disease, surgical treatment of artery problems for lower extremity occlusion, and aortic aneurysm, surgical treatment of carotid artery problems and of lung and esophagus problems.

If a person's heart condition poses a significant risk to their health and livelihood, surgery is the preferred method of treatment. Cardiovascular surgeons most commonly perform coronary artery bypass surgery, involving bypassing the blockage in the coronary arteries with a blood vessel taken from another part of the patient's body. Since the first operation successfully completed in the 1960s, many different improvements and variations in techniques have been developed, including a new technique called minimally invasive coronary artery bypass (MIDCAB), or limited access coronary artery bypass. In contrast with conventional CABG, which is an open-heart surgery, this procedure is done through a smaller incision over the heart to access the coronary arteries.

Performing open-heart surgery means taking the patient's life in the doctor's hands. Yet these trained surgeons go to school for so long so that they are true professionals in this field. They perform some long difficult procedures, such as triple and quadruple bypasses along with heart transplants. A heart transplant may be necessary due to one of several cardiac problems: coronary artery disease or idiopathic cardiomyopathy. Technology in heart transplants has come a long way in recent years and is constantly moving forward, technologically speaking, and becoming more successful.

The job can be very rewarding if your patient's survival and health rates improve from surgery. However, due to the complexity of the operations they perform, there is also the risk of heart failure, therefore there is a definite level of emotion involved in this career.
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  Interests and Skills  
Cardiovascular surgeons are interested in helping people, first and foremost. They have the intellectual ability required to successfully complete the required academic training and to pursue a course of lifelong learning, and the stamina required to work long hours. They have excellent communication skills and can get along with people well and instill confidence. They will need emotional strength and maturity, and passion, empathy and energy.

Cardiovascular surgeons should enjoy finding solutions to problems, dealing with people, and directing the work of others. The positions requires superior manual dexterity and the ability to manage stress and fatigue. Also, ethics is a strong point for these types of people because they have to do what is right for their patients with their best interests in mind.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Treat and operate on diseases of heart and blood vessels
  • Examine patients for symptoms indicative of heart disorders, using medical instruments and equipment
  • Study diagnostic images and electrocardiograph recordings to aid in making diagnoses
  • Implant pacemakers and other related devices
  • Perform bypass surgery, heart transplants and other serious surgeries
  • Prescribe medications and recommend dietary and physical activity programs for a post-operative recovery
  • Cardiovascular surgeons split up their time seeing patients and conducting surgery, performing administrative work and conducting research. They generally work long hours, about 50 to 60 per week. Therefore, they can be found in working in operating rooms at hospitals, in offices, and in examination rooms or constantly travelling between these places.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most cardiovascular surgeons work in hospitals, yet they are also found in universities, intensive care units, private clinics and other research offices.

  Long Term Career Potential  
After the many years of school, training and residency that cardiovascular surgeons must go through, chances are by the time they become professional surgeons, they will work in the field for a long time. Becoming a cardiovascular surgeon is like getting a huge promotion to begin with. However, they can always learn new skills, add more patients, or change jobs. They may work as directors of research, hospital administrators, medical school administrators, and teachers in medical schools and residency programs. They may manage clinics or do research for pharmaceutical companies. They may also write and publish in scientific and medical journals or take jobs in medical public relations.

  Educational Paths  
Becoming a cardiovascular surgeon requires a long educational road, so be prepared for a lifelong learning experience. Most start with a Bachelor of Science degree, however some Bachelor of Arts graduates may be accepted into medical school programs. While in high school, take math and science classes. Also, not all medical schools require a bachelor's degree and with good marks, some students can get accepted after two years of undergraduate study. Check with the school for their requirements before applying.

The next step is medical school, which usually takes four years. Graduation from an approved medical school will result in the title Medical Doctor (MD). A cardiovascular surgeon must complete five years of training in general surgery before starting a two- or three-year cardiothoracic training program. Some cardiovascular surgeons have additional training to perform pediatric or transplant surgery. Completion of the qualifying licensing examinations is required to practice medicine. Licensure by the regional licensing authority is required.

Finally, before entering medical school, volunteer in a hospital, nursing home or community center. This will give you valuable experience in dealing with people who need help and what it is like to work as a doctor.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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