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What You Need to Know to Become a Thoracic Surgeon

What You Need to Know to Become a Thoracic Surgeon
A thoracic surgeon is one who operates lungs, heart, and other organs of the chest (thorax). CareerStint here will tell you what you need to know to become a thoracic surgeon.
CareerStint Staff
"It's almost like starting from scratch, bringing all the parts together. It's exciting to build something like this from the ground floor, taking your experiences over time and putting them together to build the best possible program. I think patients will benefit greatly."
― Dr. David Mason, Chief of Thoracic surgery, Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas.

Becoming a surgeon is no mean feat. It not only requires you to be equipped with the authentic medical degrees, but also requires you to have a tremendous amount of dedication towards work. And rightly so, because you are actually holding a patient's life in your hand. You must have heard of a heart transplant surgery, wherein the damaged heart is replaced with a healthy donor heart. Within a few months, the patient is able to start living a normal life. While many procedures are a success, there are unfortunate times when it can go wrong, and the patient might be at a risk of losing his life. You must have a rough idea about the intricacies of the medical profession as well as its demands, before entering the same. If you plan to get into thoracic study, which involves operating on the chest organs, you need to know the educational requirements and have the knowledge of thoracic surgery procedures. The following paragraphs will tell you how to become a thoracic surgeon, the skills required, training programs, and much more about the subject.
Types

As mentioned earlier, a thoracic surgeon operates on the chest organs, which means that there are different types of thoracic surgeries, each type specializing on one part of the chest. The surgeons are also identified as cardiovascular surgeons, congenital heart surgeons, etc. A broad classification is given below:
Chest Trauma
  • Surgery on the chest is performed in case of an emergency, when the problems, like esophageal injury, air leak, cardiac injury, etc., are observed.
  • An endotracheal intubation is performed in such cases.
Esophageal Cancer
  • Surgery is performed when cancer cells are detected in and around the esophagus.
  • During the process, the tumors, a portion of the stomach, as well as the surrounding lymph nodes are removed.
Lung Cancer
  • An invasive surgery is performed on the lungs.
  • The affected parts are removed, though, mostly, the surgery takes place in the later stages due to late diagnosis.
Lung Transplant
  • This type of surgery involves removing the damaged lung and replacing it with a donor lung.
  • It is a complicated process, and the success rate depends on every person's medical condition.
Job Description
  • As a thoracic surgeon, you are expected to have an extensive amount of knowledge regarding all the chest organs.
  • Irrespective of whether you are going to specialize in one organ or continue as a general surgeon, you need to be clear about all the medical know-how.
  • You will of course begin by assisting in operations, before gaining sufficient experience to perform your own procedure.
  • Your job involves performing the surgery, follow-up post surgery, prescribing medication, and giving complete advice about aftercare.
  • If any problem occurs after the operation, you should know why it has occurred and what steps you need to take so that the problem is solved.
Requirements
  • You will require tremendous passion and dedication towards your vocation.
  • You will need patience and determination, because your residency period could take a long time and it might be much longer before you perform your first procedure.
  • You should be physically and mentally fit as well, and should be able to fine-tune your personal and professional life.
  • You should have leadership and interpersonal communication skills as well.
Educational Qualifications
  • You will need to have a related undergraduate degree, i.e., a degree in biology, chemistry, etc.
  • You will have to give the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) to qualify for medical school.
  • If you pass with the required marks, you can secure admission to medical college, where you will spend 4 years.
  • The first two years will consist of classroom training in related subjects, like biochemistry, anatomy, etc.
  • The next two years will consist of practical training, which involves going on rotations to examine patients, making notes and diagnosing, etc.
  • Remember that this period will consist of training for every type of medicine - internal medicine, pediatrics, neurology, etc.
  • After you complete, you need to enroll for a residency program in surgical training.
  • Your residency period will vary according to your performance, generally it lasts for about 5 years.
  • The last 2-3 years of this period is when you will focus on your specialty.
  • You will require a special certification to specialize in the surgery of your choice (heart, lungs, esophagus).
  • You can study for further programs too, and you can get certified from the ABTS (American Board of Thoracic Surgery).
  • You will get your license to practice depending on the requirements of your state.
  • You will then secure a job at private/public hospitals, assisting skilled surgeons.
Salary
  • Salaries vary as per your specialty and the seriousness of the operation.
  • Also remember that you will not earn much during your residency.
  • A median annual salary would be more than USD 400,000.
  • Your salary will vary as per experience as well.
  • Consulting surgeons might earn on a per operation level.
Work Environment
  • With problems and diseases on the constant rise, the nation is in dire need of skilled surgeons.
  • The requirement for surgeons is always on a high.
  • Your work environment will of course, comprise doctors and nurses and medical equipment.
  • If you have undertaken the oath to serve humanity, you will have to get used to a cacophony of noises, like the constant buzzing of the emergency bell, the buzzing of the different medical machines, the constant streaming of patients (especially if you are in the emergency ward), etc.
  • You have to get used to the smell of medicines and injections and saline bottles.
  • You will be made to work excessively during your residency, for long hours and in all kinds of shifts.
  • Your hours will be much easier when you begin your own independent practice (which is likely to be a long way off).

A surgeon is the one on whom the success of the operation rests solely. It is like getting involved in a tussle with nature, where you fight against conspiring forces and save the patient's life. In order that you win this tough battle, you need to love your profession and understand every minute detail about it. So if you think you are capable and serious enough, go on and start researching on the available medical programs and universities. Good luck!