Nearly 75% of cardiothoracic surgeons are satisfied with careers

Nearly 75 percent of cardiothoracic surgeons are satisfied with their current career, according to a survey from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS). The findings showed that 14.9 percent were extremely satisfied, 28.6 percent were very satisfied, 29.3 percent were satisfied, 21.3 percent were somewhat satisfied and 5.9 percent were not at all satisfied.

The survey also found that 60.8 percent of cardiothoracic surgeons would encourage their children or grandchildren to go into medicine today, and 47.5 percent would encourage their children or grandchildren to go into cardiothoracic surgery today. Both rates were higher than results from the 2005 and 2009 surveys.

Results were published in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery on Sept. 13.

In late 2014, the STS sent the 63-question survey to 4,343 surgeons who were members of the organization. In all, 29.1 percent of the physicians submitted responses.

The median age of thoracic surgeons was 54 years old, while 37.2 percent were between 50 and 59 years old and 30.1 percent were in their 40s. Women accounted for 6.9 percent of the responders, including 6.3 percent of adult cardiac, 6.1 percent of congenital heart and 11.8 percent of general thoracic surgeons.

Of the cardiothoracic surgeons, 76 percent were employed, which the report’s authors said was a much higher proportion than was reported on previous survey. Of the surgeons, 36.8 percent said they were “salaried-hospital employed,” 26.7 percent said they were “salaried-academic medicine with an ACGME CT surgery residency program,” 12.4 percent said they worked in “private practice-small (1-3 CT surgeons)” and 10.5 percent said they were “salaried-academic medicine (medical school or university).”

Most of the surgeons said they worked between 51 and 80 hours per week. They also mentioned that they spent 75.9 percent of their time on clinical care and surgery and 11.4 percent of their time with administrative duties.

In addition, 42.6 percent of surgeons said the total major operative procedures they performed increased in the previous 12 months. The most commonly performed procedures among practicing U.S. surgeons were adult cardiac surgery (69.1 percent), pulmonary surgery (63.3 percent) and esophageal surgery (36.8 percent).  Further, 26.4 percent said they performed vascular surgery and 23.6 percent said they performed congenital heart surgery.

The mean malpractice insurance premiums ranged between $54,310 and $57,402 in the past five years, which were similar to the 2009 survey. In addition, 71.7 percent of surgeons said their individual malpractice premiums stayed the same in the past two years, while 18 percent said they increased and 10.7 percent said they decreased.

Nearly 75 percent of surgeons said they had an annual income of $200,000 to $799,000, while the most common income range was $400,000 to $599,000. Also, 44.2 percent of surgeons said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their income, and 34.1 percent said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their income.

The report found that 89.9 percent of surgeons participated in the STS national database, a much higher rate than the 35.4 percent participation rate from the 2009 survey. In addition, 90.1 percent of the survey’s respondents said they were meaningful users of electronic health records.

The survey’s authors noted that the reimbursement for cardiothoracic surgical services has significantly decreased in the past 25 years, while hospital reimbursements for revascularization procedures steadily increased due to the Medicare Economic Index. Physicians’ costs have also increased due in part to recent governmental regulations, according to the authors.

They added that one limitation of the study was that the 29.1 percent response rate, which was much lower than the 38.5 percent rate in 2005 and 47.5 percent rate in 2009.

“The reasons for this are not entirely clear but may reflect reluctance to commit the response time in the face of an increasing burden of various survey requests extended to surgeons,” the researchers wrote. “Despite the reported statistical model that predicted only a 2.3 percent data variance with 95 percent confidence, it is possible that this low response rate has introduced some biases into the present survey results.

"New methods of obtaining these data with a more robust surgeon response are required; these could include linking the survey to the American Board of Thoracic Surgery maintenance of certification program, or periodically, to STS membership renewal. Nevertheless, [cardiothoracic] surgery remains vital to the U.S. medical workforce, and the results of the current survey support a positive future for our specialty.”