What is a Heart Surgeon

In the United States, heart surgery, or cardiac surgery (surgery pertaining to the heart), and thoracic surgery (surgery pertaining to all organs of the thorax) training are combined, creating cardiothoracic surgery; a cardiothoracic surgeon is a doctor specializing in surgery to treat organs of the thorax, especially the heart. This includes the treatment of heart and coronary arterial diseases, lung disease, and esophageal diseases.

Work Environment

A heart surgeon’s work environment is generally clean and well-lit; such cleanliness comes with all medical work, however it is particularly necessary for surgical work given the potential for infection. The job itself is fairly taxing; many hours must be spent on one’s feet in surgery, and these can extend beyond ten or twelve hours, depending on the severity of the treatment needed.

Many surgeons share similar hazards in their work environments, namely the potential for back troubles. This is due mainly to the long hours bending over their patients on the operating table. However, while a potential concern, these issues are not terribly common.

Work Schedule

The work schedule for a heart surgeon is long and often irregular. They will generally have a normal schedule of forty to fifty hours per week, however often this can be extended by hours on call, or being called in for emergency situations. 

Mean Annual Heart Surgeon Salary

The average annual heart surgeon salary is $417,500. The lowest 10% of  cardiothoracic surgeon salaries are less than $262,000. The top 10% of cardiothoracic surgeon salaries reach more than $613,170.

Heart Surgeon Salary: Quick Summary

2014 Mean Salary$417,500 per year
$200.72 per hour
Top 10% Salary$613,170 per year
$294.79 per hour
Bottom 10% Salary$262,000 per year
$125.96 per hour
Number of Jobs, 201341,030

Heart Surgeon Job Outlook and Prospects

The job outlook for heart surgeons is quite promising, with an expected 18 percent job growth between 2012 and 2022; this is about on par with all physicians and surgeons, and far above the average 10 percent growth in all fields. The growth is due in part to the overall growth of the medical industry, and in part due to the aging population. Heart trouble is exceptionally common as age increases, and an aging population will thus bring a greater demand for heart surgeons.

Heart Surgeon Salary: Factors of Influences

A heart surgeon’s salary is affected by many of the same factors as other medical fields, namely the industry worked, the experience the surgeon has attained, and the geographic location in which they are located. Specialization can also contribute to the heart surgeon’s salary, as can the position in their place of employment. The mean salary for heart surgeons is around $417,500 per year.

Education and Specialization 

Training to become a heart surgeon is quite intensive, and even more so for sub-specializations. Following a four-year bachelor’s and four-year medical degree, they must engage in a five- to seven-year general surgery residency before engaging in a two- to three-year cardiothoracic surgery fellowship. There is some improvement in this respect of late, as some programs have introduced an integrated six-year cardiothoracic residency, reducing the time spent in study. Those who do complete these integrated residencies can expect to see higher salaries; the competition is fierce, and it will be along among the best who are selected for this fast track.

There is room for further sub-specialization in the heart surgery field, though it does bring with it further time in fellowships. The American Board of Thoracic Surgery, for instance, offers a special certificate in congenital heart surgery that requires a further year of fellowship. This will, however, bring commensurate wage increases.

Experience and Position 

Experience is one of the major factors affecting heart surgeon salaries. Surgeons at the outset of their career tend to earn between $62,500 and $408,000; those with ten years’ experience or more will earn between $450,000 and $550,000 (the higher end generally being earned by those with significantly more experience).

Position is less of a factor, though still worth noting. Working as the head of a cardiothoracic or cardiac surgery department will bring salary improvements.


A heart surgeon’s salary is very affected by the industry in which they work. A heart surgeon working in a hospital, for example, will typically earn around $450,000; one working in a private clinic, however, may earn closer to $475,000. The highest wages are earned in acute care hospitals, with averages nearing $500,000.


Location is a major factor for influencing heart surgeon salaries, offering average ranges between $220,000 in Puerto Rico, to nearly $450,000 in Ohio. Kentucky offers the second highest wages at approximately $446,000, and North Dakota is a close third, at $443,000. These are primarily in comparatively less populous regions, though it should be noted that the best wages are generally to be earned in the larger urban centers of these states.

heart surgeon salary state by state