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Cardiothoracic Surgery Specialty at a Glance

Students interested in cardiothoracic surgery should take electives that prepare them for the highly competitive application process as well as a lifelong career in the field. Given the small number of spots available and the rigorous training required, programs are looking for applicants who show a strong commitment to a career in cardiothoracic surgery. Such commitment is primarily demonstrated through excelling in cardiothoracic surgery electives and research. Students interested in cardiothoracic surgery are encouraged to seek career mentoring early for guidance in selecting fourth year rotations and to facilitate involvement in research.

No match statistics are available at this time.

USMLE step scores are generally greater than 240.

  • Why should a student choose cardiothoracic surgery?

    Cardiothoracic surgeons provide care for patients with diseases within the chest. Commonly treated conditions include coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease, heart failure, aortic aneurysms, cancers of the lung/esophagus/mediastinum and congenital heart anomalies.

    You may be interested in cardiothoracic surgery if you:

    • want an intellectually challenging career with a focus in cardiopulmonary physiology, oncology and critical care.

    • are results-oriented.

    • enjoy working with your hands.

    • are interested in an evolving field with new technology.

    • possess leadership qualities and enjoy working as a team.

  • Are there things students should be doing in Phase 1 (year 1 and 2) to prepare for this specialty?

    Students should focus on building a foundation to be a well-rounded clinician as with any specialty. Consider a clinical research project potentially as part of IMPRS for the summer.

  • What electives are recommended for students pursuing cardiothoracic surgery?

    Highly recommended electives:

    • One to two months of adult cardiac surgery at IU Health Methodist Hospital

    • One month of adult thoracic surgery at IU Health University Hospital

    • One month of congenital cardiothoracic surgery at Riley Hospital for Children

    Suggested electives:

    • Critical care

    • Cardiology

    • Pulmonology

    • Vascular surgery

    • General surgery

  • What sub-Is are recommended for students pursuing cardiothoracic surgery?

    The general surgery sub-I is recommended. It is also recommended to take cardiothoracic surgery as an elective.

  • Is an away rotation recommended in cardiothoracic surgery?

    Students may be interested in completing away rotations, although this is not required. Students may wish to complete an away rotation if they are interested in training in a particular region of the country, training at a top-tier program or obtaining more in-depth knowledge about the culture of a particular program.

  • How important is research? Does it have to be specific to cardiothoracic surgery?

    Research experience, either in basic science or clinical/translational, is highly recommended. Publications, abstracts and podium presentations at professional society meetings are impactful ways to differentiate oneself and demonstrate commitment to scholarly activity.

  • How long is cardiothoracic surgery residency training?

    There are three primary pathways:

    • Traditional — Five years of general surgery plus two to three years of cardiothoracic surgery (one spot is offered each year at IU)

    • Integrated — Six years of cardiothoracic surgery (one spot is offered each year at IU)

    • Fast-Track — four years of general surgery plus three years of cardiothoracic surgery, all at one institution (not available at IU)

  • Are there any cardiothoracic surgery specific recommendations regarding letters of recommendation?

    Letters from CT surgeons may carry slightly more weight, but any LOR should demonstrate strong familiarity with the applicant and testament of the applicant’s pursuit of CT surgical training including rotation experience, research work, personal characteristics, technical ability, etc.

  • What are some useful resources for students considering cardiothoracic surgery?

    The TSDA, TSRA, STS, and AATS have resources for students considering cardiothoracic surgery. Some organizations also allow students to join for free. The STS and AATS offer scholarships for students to attend the respective annual meetings which can be valuable introductory experiences for the field as well as networking opportunities.

  • How does career mentoring at IU School of Medicine work in cardiothoracic surgery?

     Many mentoring relationships arise from direct interactions during clinical rotations. Any faculty within the Division of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery should be approachable to discuss careers in the field. Program directors and directors of clinical programs (e.g., transplant) can be helpful starting points for students considering applying to cardiothoracic surgery training programs.