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Survey: Majority of cardiothoracic surgeons satisfied with their career

By Surgical Tribune
October 24, 2016

CHICAGO, USA: Despite the significant challenges associated with a career in cardiothoracic surgery, heart and lung surgeons report a very high level of job satisfaction, according to a new survey conducted by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS), a not-for-profit organization representing more than 7,300 surgeons, researchers and allied health care professionals worldwide.

To establish a current, detailed profile of the specialty, STS distributed a 63-question workforce survey for cardiothoracic surgeons to 4,343 of its active and senior members. Reponses were submitted between Oct. 1 and Nov. 5, 2014. STS has conducted this type of survey approximately every five years since the early 1970s. In total, 1,262 surgeons participated in the most recent survey, corresponding to a 29.1 percent response rate.

According to the survey findings, 73 percent of practicing cardiothoracic surgeons are either satisfied, very satisfied or extremely satisfied with their current career, so much so that almost half would recommend pursuing a career in cardiothoracic surgery to their children or grandchildren. In addition, some respondents reported that they have postponed retirement because of their high level of career satisfaction.

“Cardiothoracic surgeons love their jobs,” said author of the survey report Prof. John S. Ikonomidis from the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston. “This translates into a better doctor–patient experience.”

Cardiothoracic surgeons are adapting to changes within the specialty by developing skills in specialized procedures and embracing new technologies. “Cardiothoracic surgery is a fast-paced, highly technical, very satisfying specialty that should appeal to almost anyone,” according to Ikonomidis. “The best things about being a cardiothoracic surgeon are the patients, the operative cases, teaching opportunities and the exciting research directions we are taking.”

Challenging specialty

Considering that heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women and that there are more than 430 lung cancer deaths each day in the US, cardiothoracic surgeons are essential to the future health of Americans. However, the survey found that the challenges of cardiothoracic surgery, such as length of training, educational debt and poor work–life balance sometimes discourage surgeons in training from choosing cardiothoracic surgery as a specialty.

The survey found a mean of 8.7 years of residency training after medical school, an average cumulative educational debt of $62,815 and a work week of at least 61 hours for 68.7 percent of the respondents. The survey also showed that many surgeons are adapting to changes in the specialty by developing skills in ultra-specialized procedures, such as robotic valve surgery and endovascular aneurysm repair, as well as embracing new technologies in order to remain competitive.

“Surgeons have responded to this pressure by working harder, learning new skillsets and procedures, and incorporating new technologies in order to expand and prepare the future generation of cardiothoracic surgeons,” said Ikonomidis. “We are evolving to make sure that our specialty will be highly relevant and represented in the future.”

Women still underrepresented

Although more women make up the cardiothoracic workforce than ever before, women are still underrepresented in the specialty. Only about 5 percent of practicing cardiothoracic surgeons are women, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“There will always be a significant need for cardiothoracic surgery,” Ikonomidis concluded. “I believe the future is bright; more medical students—especially women—should consider the specialty, and patients can expect their cardiothoracic surgeons to be highly dedicated with diverse skillsets.”

The article, titled “The Society of Thoracic Surgeons Thoracic Surgery Practice and Access Task Force: 2014 workforce report,” was published online on Sept. 13 in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

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