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Indiana University School of Medicine is working to combat the growing need for cardiac surgeons in Indiana and across the United States. The thoracic surgery residency program is getting young surgeons ready for careers in this demanding field.

Creating a new generation of cardiothoracic surgeons for Indiana

Daniel Beckman performs heart surgery

According to the Center for Disease Control, cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States. For Hoosiers living in Indiana, Indiana University School of Medicine is doing what it can to help combat the growing need for cardiac surgeons.

The heart is one of the most vital organs in the body. The heart works non-stop to deliver oxygen and nutrients to every other organ through our bloodstream. Healthy individuals might take it for granted, like breathing or blinking.

However for Americans with heart disease, it can be all they can think about. Heart disease is a diagnosis describing a variety of conditions that affect the heart’s structure and function. Some individuals are born with a genetic disposition, while others may develop one from an unhealthy lifestyle.

Daniel J. Beckman, MD, Professor of Clinical Cardiothoracic Surgery, explained how the thoracic surgery residency program at IU School of Medicine is getting young surgeons ready for careers in this demanding field, as well as how the program here in Indianapolis sees patients from all over the state of Indiana.

“There has to be someplace where no matter what’s wrong with you, doctors and nurses are willing to take care of you. And that’s us,” Beckman said.

In an environment where so many individuals are seen with a wide range of issues that go beyond heart disease, the education thoracic surgery residents receive is invaluable.

“Residents get to see things here that they might go five to 10 years in another environment without seeing,” Beckman said, “For example, aortic dissection is a lethal problem if it’s not corrected. If you’re in community-based service, you might only see one of those a year. But at this hospital, you’ll see 5 to 10 of those a month.”

Kevin Graham performs surgery with colleaguesFor thoracic surgery chief resident Kevin A. Graham, MD, the experience that comes from a program like the one at IU School of Medicine is second to none.

“We see some of the most complex cases here,” Graham said. “That’s so incredibly valuable, because we get to experience the entire spectrum of cardiac surgery.”

For Graham, the faculty and staff are a big aspect of why he loves the surgical field of thoracic surgery.

The people that I work with are just phenomenal,” Graham said. “The faculty here is so enthusiastic about cardiac surgery and they make sure you’re doing things the right way, having perfect outcomes. They infect you with that enthusiasm and zest for life in this career.”

For Beckman, the residency program is an excellent way to revitalize the profession that is getting older and training future generations of surgeons that will be capable of handling any complex surgery that may be presented to them.

“The cardiac and thoracic surgical specialty is top-heavy. There’s a lot of old guys hanging around doing good work, but they are not going to last forever,” said Beckman. “For about 15 years, people didn’t even apply to cardiothoracic programs because they thought it was a dead-end specialty. Now there are lots of jobs available. A lot of people are going to be retiring in the next ten years, so this residency, at least to me, is of extreme value to this institution.”

Beckman went on to explain how the program allows for the state of Indiana to cultivate a new generation of highly qualified cardiothoracic surgeons.

“For one thing, we don’t have to go out on the open market. We could train our own excellent group surgeon,” explained Beckman. “We have an obligation to the citizens of the state of Indiana to create great heart surgeons that will work in Indiana, but we don’t compel anybody to do that, but we certainly wouldn’t have any objection if they, do stay in Indiana. Even if they worked for a competitor, that’s okay, so long as they’re really good at what they do.”

While the six-year-long training experience makes sure residents are knowledgeable and capable surgeons, the mentoring they receive will help them throughout their residency and well into their future as practicing surgeons.

“The most intensified mentoring comes at the end, not at the beginning,” said Beckman. “That first year out in practice, which can be the most trying year of their life because for the first time they alone are responsible for a patient, not just for the patient’s wellbeing but for their very life.”

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Marco Gutierrez

Marco Gutierrez is a communications coordinator for the Indiana University School of Medicine, where he supports the Department of Surgery and the Office of Strategic Communications. Before joining the Office of Strategic Communications, Marco worked for...
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.