The heart, blood arteries, and other tissues in the chest are operated on by heart surgeons, also known as cardiac surgeons. Stress, long hours, and the danger of disease may all be part of the sensitive job they do. These highly skilled doctors begin their careers in general surgery before pursuing specialized training, which may take 17 years or more. The American Medical Group Association estimates that cardiac surgeons earned a median income of $532,657 in 2011.
The Operating Room
Working in a surgical suite can be stressful, intense, and physically demanding. Because heart surgery may take anywhere from four to six hours, a surgeon spends a lot of time on her feet. Surgery is sometimes a life-or-death situation, and it is done as an emergency procedure. The operating room is crammed with equipment, including the anesthetic machine and extracorporeal apparatus that circulates and oxygenates the patient’s blood while the surgeon works on the heart. When the machines are in operation, several of them beep or flash. There may be a large number of people in the operating room, including the anesthesiologist, surgical nurses, heart experts, and other professionals.
Working conditions may be less stressful outside of the OR. Surgeons may see their patients in hospital units like critical care before and after operation. Some cardiac surgeons also lecture, and may go on rounds with a team of health students or residents, or oversee a resident while he or she conducts a surgery. Surgeons work in hospitals or medical offices that are climate-controlled, quiet, and well-lit.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cardiovascular surgeons are often exposed to bloodborne illnesses such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV. During surgery, there is a danger of blood spray in addition to wounds from scalpels and equipment. To avoid coming into touch with the patient’s blood, cardiac surgeons use gowns, gloves, caps, and face masks. In this setting, surgeons are also exposed to a small amount of radiation, mainly during imaging tests like X-rays. Accidental inhalation of anesthetic gases may potentially be dangerous.
Typically, surgeons work lengthy shifts and may be required to respond to emergency calls. They may be required to work while they are sleep-deprived, and they often work under pressure. A cardiac surgeon may treat patients of any age, ranging from a small baby with a heart abnormality to an old person who requires a cardiac bypass. Under emergency circumstances, the surgeon must be able to establish rapport with patients and their families. Cardiac surgeons operate as part of a team of healthcare professionals, especially in the operating room, and must be able to collaborate with other members of the team.