Choosing a Heart Surgeon


Is My Cardiac Surgeon Prepared?

If you are choosing a cardiac surgeon, chances are that you have a disease of the heart or blood vessels of the chest that cannot be corrected by an interventional cardiologist. Heart surgery is one of the most challenging and complicated types of surgery which is why it is performed by physicians who have completed years of training in medicine and surgery. In order to perform cardiothoracic surgery, a cardiac surgeon needs to complete a college degree, four years of medical school, five years of general surgery training and then two years of cardiothoracic surgery training. Thus, most cardiac surgeons that are leading cardiac surgeries are at least 33 years old and usually older. However, if you are having your surgery done at a large teaching hospital, it may be the case that your surgery is being performed to a large degree by a surgical resident. Even if this is the case, the surgeon-in-training has still performed five full years of general surgery residency and is being closely supervised by a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon. If you do not like the idea of letting a trainee operate on you, you should consider having your surgery performed at a community hospital that does not train surgeons. If you do choose the community hospital route, keep in mind that there are certain benefits to having surgery at a large institution that you would be giving up. These benefits likely include access to surgeons that have dealt with various complications as well as difficult surgeries. Community surgeons are quite skilled at a handful of surgeries yet academic surgeons have usually seen a wide variety of very challenging cases and are more likely to know how to handle difficult complications if one were to arise.

Which Cardiac Surgeon Is the Right One?

Whether you choose an academic hospital or a community hospital, rest assured the surgeon will have had years of experience performing surgery. You should still ask a few questions, though. Consider that there are various ways to perform open-heart surgery. Will your blood be cycled through a bypass machine? Will ice be used to slow down the heart so that it is easier to operate? Will the heart continue to beat as it normally does but be stabilized so that the surgical surfaces are motionless? Will a robotic apparatus be used thus reducing the size of the skin incision? Also, find out how many surgeries of your type that the cardiac surgeon has performed. What is the overall complication rate? What is his or her complication rate for that surgery? Ask what can go wrong and what can be done about it. If you are at an academic institution, ask if residents will be helping on the case. Ask to meet them. If you do not want a resident to help, find out if that is an option.

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