Cardiothoracic surgeons satisfied with their careers, but risk of burnout remains

Heart and lung surgeons are as satisfied with their jobs as ever, according to new survey results published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons has been surveying cardiothoracic surgeons approximately once every five years since the 1970s. This time around, the team received 1,069 responses from Sept. 16 to Nov. 1, 2019.

Overall, 83.1% of respondents said they are “satisfied,” “very satisfied,” or “extremely satisfied” with their career choice. A “high level of career satisfaction” has even led some surgeons to work longer before retiring than they had originally planned.

“When a surgeon heals a patient through a carefully thought-out and expertly performed procedure followed by compassionate and comprehensive postoperative care, a deeply satisfied feeling ensues, which never dulls with time or age,” lead author John S. Ikonomidis, MD, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a statement.

Another key finding is that 55.7% of respondents experience symptoms of burnout and depression.  

“Cardiothoracic surgery—as a ‘frontline’ surgical specialty—is at great risk for burnout and depression because of high stress and long working hours,” Ikonomidis said. “Surgeons must be honest with themselves regarding symptoms and take steps to prevent burnout and depression.”

Other topics included the slow rise of women in the cardiothoracic workforce—up from 6.9% in 2014 to 8.4% in this latest roundup—and the fact that 17.8% of respondents reporting being at least $150,000 in debt due to medical education when they first started practicing.