Cardiothoracic surgery (also known as thoracic surgery) is the field of medicine involved in surgical treatment of organs inside the thorax (the chest)´generally treatment of conditions of the heart (heart disease) and lungs (lung disease). In most countries, cardiac surgery (involving the heart and the great vessels) and general thoracic surgery (involving the lungs, esophagus, thymus, etc.) are separate surgical specialties; the exceptions are the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and some EU countries, such as the United Kingdom and Portugal.
The highly competitive Surgical Education and Training (SET) program in Cardiothoracic Surgery is six years in duration, usually commencing several years after completing medical school. Training is administered and supervised via a bi-national (Australia and New Zealand) training program. Multiple examinations take place throughout the course of training, culminating in a final fellowship exam in the final year of training. Upon completion of training, surgeons are awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (FRACS), denoting that they are qualified specialists. Trainees having completed a training program in General Surgery and have obtained their FRACS will have the option to complete fellowship training in Cardiothoracic Surgery of four year in duration, subject to college approval. It takes around eight to ten years minimum of post-graduate (post-medical school) training to qualify as a cardiothoracic surgeon. Competition for training places and for public (teaching) hospital places is very high currently, leading to concerns regarding workforce planning in Australia.
In the United Kingdom, you have to train for an MBBS (or MBChB), typically for 5 years. You may intercalate a BSc degree for a total 6 years undergraduate education, but this is not required. After you apply for a specialty place, or core surgical training (which is less competitive than going straight into the speciality). If you go for the core surgical training, you can then apply on the third year for cardiothoracic surgery, which at that point is much less competitive. Once you're training for the speciality, you may choose to subspecialise in perhaps: aortic surgery; adult cardiac surgery; thoracic surgery; paediatric cardiothoracic surgery; adult congenital surgery. This is a rewarding and technically challenging speciality, similar to interventional cardiology in some aspects.
The earliest operations on the pericardium (the sac that surrounds the heart) took place in the 19th century and were performed by Francisco Romero (1801) Dominique Jean Larrey, Henry Dalton, and Daniel Hale Williams. The first surgery on the heart itself was performed by Norwegian surgeon Axel Cappelen on 4 September 1895 at Rikshospitalet in Kristiania, now Oslo. He ligated a bleeding coronary artery in a 24-year-old man who had been stabbed in the left axilla and was in deep shock upon arrival. Access was through a left thoracotomy. The patient awoke and seemed fine for 24 hours, but became ill with increasing temperature and he ultimately died from what the post mortem proved to be mediastinitis on the third postoperative day. The first successful surgery of the heart, performed without any complications, was by Ludwig Rehn of Frankfurt, Germany, who repaired a stab wound to the right ventricle on September 7, 1896.
Cardiac surgery changed significantly after World War II. In 1948 four surgeons carried out successful operations for mitral stenosis resulting from rheumatic fever. Horace Smithy (1914–1948) of Charlotte, revived an operation due to Dr Dwight Harken of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital using a punch to remove a portion of the mitral valve. Charles Bailey (1910–1993) at the Hahnemann Hospital, Philadelphia, Dwight Harken in Boston and Russell Brock at Guy's Hospital all adopted Souttar's method. All these men started work independently of each other, within a few months. This time Souttar's technique was widely adopted although there were modifications.
Open heart surgery is a procedure in which the patient's heart is opened and surgery is performed on the internal structures of the heart. It was discovered by Wilfred G. Bigelow of the University of Toronto that the repair of intracardiac pathologies was better done with a bloodless and motionless environment, which means that the heart should be stopped and drained of blood. The first successful intracardiac correction of a congenital heart defect using hypothermia was performed by C. Walton Lillehei and F. John Lewis at the University of Minnesota on September 2, 1952. The following year, Soviet surgeon Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Vishnevskiy conducted the first cardiac surgery under local anesthesia.
A new form of heart surgery that has grown in popularity is robot-assisted heart surgery. This is where a machine is used to perform surgery while being controlled by the heart surgeon. The main advantage to this is the size of the incision made in the patient. Instead of an incision being at least big enough for the surgeon to put his hands inside, it does not have to be bigger than 3 small holes for the robot's much smaller "hands" to get through.