Alexander American University
School of Medicine

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Cardiothoracic Surgery

Cardiothoracic surgery is the field of medicine involved in surgical treatment of organs inside the thorax (the chest)—generally treatment of conditions of the heart (heart disease) and lungs (lung disease). Cardiac surgery (involving the heart and great vessels) and thoracic surgery (involving the lungs) are separate surgical specialties, except in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and in some EU countries, such as the UK and Portugal.

A cardiac surgery residency typically comprises anywhere from 9 to 14 years (or longer) of training to become a fully qualified surgeon. Cardiac surgery training may be combined with thoracic surgery and / or vascular surgery and called cardiovascular (CV) / cardiothoracic (CT) / cardiovascular thoracic (CVT) surgery. Cardiac surgeons may enter a cardiac surgery residency directly from medical school, or first complete a general surgery residency followed by a fellowship. Cardiac surgeons may further sub-specialize cardiac surgery by doing a fellowship in a variety of topics including: pediatric cardiac surgery, cardiac transplantation, adult acquired heart disease, weak heart issues, and many more problems in the heart.

Historically, cardiac surgeons in Canada completed general surgery followed by a fellowship in CV / CT / CVT. During the 1990s, the Canadian cardiac surgery training programs changed to six-year "direct-entry" programs following medical school. The direct-entry format provides residents with experience related to cardiac surgery they would not receive in a general surgery program (e.g. echocardiography, coronary care unit, cardiac pathology, etc.). Typically, this is followed by a fellowship in either Adult Cardiac Surgery, Heart Failure/Transplant, Minimally Invasive Cardiac Surgery, Aortic Surgery, Thoracic Surgery, Pediatric Cardiac Surgery or Cardiac ICU. Contemporary Canadian candidates completing general surgery and wishing to pursue cardiac surgery often complete a cardiothoracic surgery fellowship in the United States. However, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada affords a three-year cardiac surgery fellowship for qualified general surgeons that is offered at several training sites including the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto.

Thoracic surgery is its own separate 2-3 year fellowship of general surgery in Canada