Cardiothoracic Surgery

A cardiothoracic surgeon performs surgical work within the thorax, or chest. The organs that are the subject of cardiothoracic surgery include the trachea, the heart and great vessels, the lungs, the diaphragm, and the esophagus. Surgeries involving these organs often require intense measures to support the heart and lungs to maintain oxygenation to the body. Given the many operations that can be performed on organs within the chest, cardiothoracic surgeons can subspecialize. For example, cardiothoracic surgeons are composed of, but are not limited to, general thoracic, congenital cardiac, and cardiac surgeons. A general thoracic surgeon treats disease states such as resectable lung cancers and esophageal dysmotility. A congenital cardiac surgeon specializes in the issues that newborns face such as cardiac or vessel anomalies—a very high-stakes field! A cardiac surgeon operates on and within the heart, correcting defective heart valves and bypassing coronary vessels. A cardiothoracic surgeon requires an extensive knowledge of cardio-respiratory physiology and pathology as well as the physiology and pathology of the aforementioned organs contained within the thorax. Additionally, the measures taken to support cardio-respiratory function during these surgeries should also be well understood.

See the Specialties page if you have not yet registered for AAMC CiM 

As of 2013, there are three RRC approved training pathways in Cardiothoracic Surgery, including: (1) Independent Programs (also known as Traditional Pathway, 5 years of general surgery, plus 2-3 years cardiothoracic surgery residency); 

2) Joint Thoracic/General Surgery Track (also known as Fast-track Pathway — 4 years of general surgery, plus 3 years cardiothoracic surgery residency); all completed at one institution; 

3) Integrated Pathway (6 years cardiothoracic surgery residency). The application process, curriculum, and board certifications involved in each of these pathways vary dramatically - Source: AATS

All thoracic surgeons have the same general training and are certified by the same specialty board, except for congenital heart surgeons who have a sub-specialty certificate in addition to the ABTS certification. Some surgeons choose to focus their clinical practice in certain areas of thoracic surgery and can be referred to differently. A cardiac or cardiovascular surgeon will focus on the heart and great vessels. General thoracic surgeons treat diseases of the lungs, esophagus, chest wall, and mediastinum. Congenital heart surgeons operate on infants and children with heart disease. Cardiothoracic surgeon is the most inclusive term used to describe the specialty, irrespective of a particular surgeon’s area of focus and expertise, and can be used interchangeably with the term thoracic surgeon. –Source: The Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

Stephen Derryberry (

Michael Ahlers (

Faculty Advisor: 

Jonathan C. Nesbitt, MD.

VUMC Residency Director:
Joe B. Putnam, MD.

VUMC Faculty to Contact:
VMS students have recommended these faculty members as great contacts for career info, shadowing experiences, and research opportunities  

Dr. Ashish Shah
Dr. Matthew Danter
Dr. Clayton Kaiser
Dr. Melissa Levack
Dr. Jonathan Nesbitt

AAMC Careers in Medicine:

American Association for Thoracic Surgery:

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons:

The Cardiothoracic Surgery Network: