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J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2012 Jan;143(1):39-46, 46.e1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcvs.2011.10.022.

Thoracic surgery workforce: report of STS/AATS Thoracic Surgery Practice and Access Task Force--snapshot 2010.

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Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, David Geffen UCLA School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.



The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) and the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS) have intermittently surveyed their combined membership. These manpower surveys have provided snapshots of thoracic surgery, documenting practice changes over time. At this critical time in US health care reform the physician workforce is of critical importance. This survey updates the data obtained from the 2000 and 2005 surveys.


The survey instrument was updated from the 2005 survey. It was received by 5265 surgeon members of the STS/AATS during November and December 2009. There was a superb 50% return rate. The data were entered into a comprehensive database. Perception Solutions, Inc, independently performed the analysis.


The median age of the active US thoracic surgeons is 52.9 years. Women comprise 3.4% of adult cardiac, 5.2% of congenital heart, and 7.9% of general thoracic surgeons. The decision to pursue a career in thoracic surgery was made before or in medical school by 45.3% of surgeons. The majority of survey respondents had a mean of 8.7 years of residency training after medical school graduation. The cumulative average educational debt was $56,000. Overall career satisfaction was 46% (very or extremely satisfied). Database participation was 84%. Operative volume over the past 12 months decreased for 30% of surgeons. Malpractice premiums have steadily increased over the past 5 years from $55,947 to $59,673. The number of additional years the currently active US cardiothoracic surgeon plans to practice is 12.6 years. Therefore, the projected retirement age of the thoracic surgery workforce will be 65. This is consistent among all surgeons: adult cardiac, 66 years; congenital heart, 65 years; and general thoracic, 67 years.


These data give a clear profile of the specialty at this time. The major challenges remain length of training and educational debt of the thoracic surgeon. Case volume, scope of practice, malpractice costs, and career satisfaction remain major elements to provide a positive environment to recruit new surgeons in to the specialty. The resident pool has contracted while the workforce ages and retirement looms. Significant shortages may develop as the US population ages in the environment of health care reform.

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