Thoracic surgery is a medical specialty that deals with treating the organs of the chest, or thorax. This includes the lymph nodes, diaphragm, heart, lungs, trachea, and esophagus. Diseases such as emphysema, lung cancer, and heart conditions such as coronary artery disease are some of the most commonly treated by thoracic and cardiothoracic surgical procedures. Such procedures are often complex and delicate, and a patient will understandably want to be assured that the surgeon or surgeons performing the operation have the highest qualifications and skills.
Due to the degree of skill needed for these procedures, a patient will want to find a thoracic surgeon who is highly competent and experienced. In the United States, one way of ensuring a surgeon's competency is to choose one who is board certified by the American Board of Thoracic Surgeons. In order to be considered for board certification, a physician must first complete a thoracic surgery residency in an accredited program, and successfully complete a certain number of surgeries specific to the discipline. The certification process also includes successfully passing both oral and written exams, and demonstration of high moral and ethical standards of care. In order to maintain board certification, physicians must continue to hold a state license to practice medicine, remain in good standing as a staff member at one or more medical centers, complete the requisite number of continuing medical education (CME) hours, and present documentation of competency from physicians who are familiar with their surgical practice. While board certification is not the only factor needed when choosing the right surgeon, it is an indication that a particular medical professional has passed a high standard of peer review and is extremely capable.
An accomplished and accredited surgeon is one factor in a successful surgical procedure, but surgery is a team effort. Another factor to consider is the team of medical professionals involved and the medical facility where the operation will take place. For example, if the treatment sought is for lung cancer, is the procedure taking place at a medical center with a well respected oncology program? Heart conditions are another case where a dedicated cardiology department can be a strong asset when a cardiothoracic procedure is called for, and in the case of a lung transplant, a strong surgical team is necessary to complete this lengthy, complex procedure. Thoracic surgeons rightly deserve a great deal of respect for their training and expertise, but they also rely on a strong team of medical professionals to assist them in their work.