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How Much Money Do Heart Surgery Doctors Make?

by Fred Decker, studioD

According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, accounting for approximately one-quarter of all deaths. Heart disease accounts for a correspondingly large portion of the healthcare industry, and both cardiologists and cardiac surgeons are in high demand, as of 2013. Cardiac surgeons are among the most highly paid of all doctors, reflecting both the skills required and the high volume of heart surgeries.

Early Career

Heart surgeons have one of the longest training periods of all physicians, with four to five years in residency and another two to three in a cardiothoracic or cardiovascular surgical fellowship. This lengthy training pays dividends when surgeons begin to practice. Medical staffing firm Profiles, which specializes in recruiting doctors entering the work force, reported a median first-year salary of $360,000 a year for cardiothoracic surgeons in its 2011-2012 salary survey. After six years in practice, cardiac surgeons reported an average salary of $522,875 per year.

Industry Averages

The American Medical Group Association, or AMGA, conducts an annual survey of the 125,000 physicians in its member organizations. In its 2012 survey, cardiac and thoracic surgeons reported a median salary of $544,087 per year. A similar 2011 survey by the rival Medical Group Management Association reported average salaries of $560,659 a year for cardiovascular surgeons, and $762,846 a year for pediatric cardiovascular surgeons. Compensation was slightly different for surgeons employed by hospitals, with an average salary of $567,171 for cardiovascular surgeons and $681,408 for pediatric cardiovascular surgeons.


These salaries place cardiac surgeons among the highest-paid of all surgical specialties. In the AMGA survey, only neurosurgeons, at $656,520 a year,and orthopedic spinal surgeons, at $710,556 a year, reported higher earnings. In comparison, general surgeons reported a median salary of $370,024 a year. In the MGMA survey, neurosurgeons enjoyed the highest salaries at $767,627 per year, with pediatric neurosurgeons earning $643,188 a year. General surgeons were well below those figures, at $368,108 per year. Among hospital-employed surgeons, orthopedic spinal surgeons topped the list at $714,088 a year, with neurosurgeons close behind at $701,927 and pediatric neurosurgeons earning $656,282.


Cardiac surgeons spend a total of eight years in college, with the first four in an undergraduate premedical program and the second four in a medical or osteopathic school. At graduation, aspiring heart surgeons spend their first four to five years learning surgical and diagnostic skills in a general surgical residency. After their residency, surgeons move on to complete a two- to three-year fellowship in cardiothoracic or cardiovascular surgery. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected a 24 percent increase in jobs for physicians, between 2010 and 2020, but cardiac surgeons should enjoy even higher demand as the baby boom generation ages and experiences more frequent heart conditions.

About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Photo Credits

  • David Silverman/Getty Images News/Getty Images