Heart disease is a major killer in the United States, accounting for nearly 600,000 deaths per year as of 2009. Cardiac surgeons hope to reduce those numbers, correcting numerous conditions and diseases of the heart and its related blood vessels through conventional surgery and newer, minimally-invasive procedures using catheters and miniature instruments. The exacting nature of cardiac surgery, and the lengthy training period, make it one of medicine's highest-paid specialties.
Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't track physician salaries by specialty, that information is available from various professional groups and consulting firms. For example, the American Medical Group Association reports a median yearly income of $533,084 for cardiac and thoracic surgeons, one of the highest in its salary survey. Cardiac surgeons earn substantial salaries even at the beginning of their careers. Specialty recruiting firm Profiles, which works primarily with new physicians, reports median first-year salaries of $360,000 per year.
A similar survey from the Medical Group Management Association reports average salaries for cardiac surgeons and specialties, both overall and in hospital employment. The study showed pediatric cardiovascular surgeons out-earning their adult-practice peers, with an average salary of $762,846 per year. Adult cardiovascular surgeons averaged $560,659 per year. Among hospital-employed physicians, the figures were slightly different. Pediatric cardiovascular surgeons earned less, at an average of $681,408 per year. However, adult-practice surgeons reported slightly higher average incomes, at $567,171 per year.
Either set of figures places cardiac surgeons among the highest earners in medicine. In the AMGA's salary survey, only neurosurgeons and some orthopedic surgeons earned higher incomes. The median for neurosurgeons was $592,811 per year, while orthopedic spinal surgeons earned $688,503 and joint replacement specialists enjoyed a median income of $605,953 per year. The MGMA also ranks neurosurgeons higher than cardiac surgeons, citing an average salary of $767,627 for neurosurgeons and $643,188 per year for pediatric neurosurgeons.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 24 percent increase in the number of physicians and surgeons between 2010 and 2020. In its summary of the job outlook for physicians and surgeons, the bureau points to the aging of the large baby boom generation and suggests that physicians treating age-related conditions can expect strong demand. This includes cardiac surgeons, as heart disease and related vascular conditions are more prevalent among the elderly.