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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
MD Education

Cardiothoracic Surgery

"As the name implies, cardiothoracic surgery is on the heart and in the chest cavity. It also includes operations on the lungs, esophagus, and major blood vessels in the chest. Heart surgery includes coronary artery bypass grafting, valve replacements, heart transplants, thoracic aneurism repairs, septal defect repairs, and trauma to the heart. Thoracic surgery includes lung resections, esophageal resections/reconstructions, video-assisted thoracic surgeries (VATS), pleurodesis, and similar procedures. If you enjoy cardiac and pulmonary physiology, love meticulous procedures, and become excited with the idea of operating within the chest, CT surgery may be your calling."

— Freeman, B. (2013). The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty. 3rd Ed. Lange Medical Books/McGraw-Hill: New York. p. 233.

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M1 and M2 Students

  • What advice would you offer first- and second-year students who are interested in pursuing your specialty?
    Get involved early. Demonstrating that you have investigated the field and really understand what you are signing up for is important. This may be in the form of research, clinical rotations, elective or just observing in your spare time. It is important to develop a relationship with someone in the field early. Since most integrated programs are only one or two people per year, our worst nightmare is that someone will quit because they didn’t really understand what they were getting into. Therefore, we are looking for evidence of sustained interest and effort. You need to convince the program that you are meant to be a cardiothoracic surgeon.

    Pay attention to grades and USMLE scores. Thoracic surgery integrated programs are very competitive. Fewer than one in five applicants obtains a position most years. Those with poor USMLE scores or less than high pass in the M3 surgery rotation will not be considered by many programs. Most programs also look at other M3 grades, and honors in surgery with pass in all other rotations will not help your application.
  • How important is a research experience in your specialty? If important, does it need to be in the specialty itself?
    Research experience is very helpful, and many programs will favor those with cardiac or thoracic research.

M3 and M4 Students

Cardiothoracic Surgery Resources

Request an Cardiothoracic Surgery Adviser

If you would like to contact the program director regarding faculty advisers, please contact:


S. Chris Malaisrie
Career Advising Coordinator
Division of Cardiac Surgery

For More Information

Department of Surgery Administration
Northwestern University
Feinberg School of Medicine
251 E. Huron St., Suite 3-150
Chicago, IL 60611