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Cardiothoracic Surgery as a Career Path

Monday, October 6, 2008

Becoming a surgeon has been an enduring goal in my life. Last year I learned from my program director about the scholarship entitled “Looking to the Future” sponsored by The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS). I eventually applied for and was rewarded this fellowship, and I believe that it is one of the most valuable things that will assist me in achieving my career goals. I became a welcomed member of the Cardiothoracic (CT) Surgery community. The helpful and warm STS staff members promptly contacted me and made arrangements for me to participate in theAnnual Meeting of the STS in San Diego, CA (January 2007) along with 15 other fellows. My days in the meeting were filled with group activities and lectures as well as myriad opportunities to participate in discussions regarding the present and future directions of CT Surgery in the United States.

As it was my first time in a dedicated CT Surgery conference, I was particularly impressed with the high quality of the lecture and discussion topics and the basic science sessions. I was amazed and relieved to discover that modern CT Surgery manages a vast and diverse spectrum of diseases, contrary to the misconception that the field has become restricted to operations such as CABG, valve replacement, and VATS.  

I became acquainted with Thoracic and Cardiac Surgeons who are leaders in their fields as well as true legends that have made monumental contributions to modern CT Surgery practices. At the meeting I was assigned a mentor, an extraordinary doctor who is truly dedicated to cultivating the interest of surgical residents in CT surgery. My mentor will follow my progress and advise me in my course toward becoming a CT Surgeon; he will answer my questions and address my skepticisms along the way.

I began my third year of general surgery residency in the summer of 2007 with a one-month rotation in Cardiac Surgery. This experience differed greatly from those of my previous surgical rotations. Several observations impressed me; firstly, Cardiac Surgery has its own dedicated operating rooms, right next to the Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit. Secondly, the patient was brought to the OR 30 minutes to one hour before the scheduled time of the case. Thirdly, the Cardiac Surgery team is specific and never changes: anesthesiologists, scrub nurse, circulator, bypass machine technician are all part of a well-tuned orchestra with the surgeon being the conductor. I would admire the quiet environment in the OR with minimal discussion other than having to do with the operation, and the magnificent economy of motion of the surgeons without making any unnecessary movements. Above all, however, I was amazed by the patient and calm manner in which the surgeons would manage every possible major or minor adverse event during the procedure, such as bleeding, hypotension, even cardiorespiratory arrest.

I cannot help feeling disappointed by negative articles and opinions from my colleagues that the field of CT Surgery is congested and the job opportunities for new graduates are few. Simultaneously, I am uplifted by articles that describe the bright future of CT Surgery, highlighting innovative therapies and surgical approaches that will be implemented. This gives me great hope for the future and appetite to work diligently toward becoming a valuable CT Surgeon. Our patients need us and we need to learn from them…

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