What does a pediatric cardiac surgeon do?

In addition to operating on the heart, a cardiac surgeon also can perform surgery on the lungs, esophagus, coronary arteries, trachea and diaphragm.

Norton Children’s Heart Institute

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A pediatric cardiac surgeon is a doctor with specialized training to perform heart surgery on children.

The majority of heart problems requiring surgery on children are congenital heart defects. A skilled pediatric cardiac surgeon is capable of repairing all types of complex heart defects on newborns, babies, young children and teens. Given the complexity of these congenital cardiac operations, the role of the pediatric cardiac surgeons extends to the treatment of adults (older than 18 years) with congenital heart disease. In addition to congenital heart disease, the pediatric cardiac surgeon takes care of other acquired heart conditions in children such as advanced heart failure (requiring heart transplantation or mechanical support), rhythm problems, cardiac infections or trauma.

The pediatric cardiac surgeons work closely with a team of specialists to manage children with heart disease. This team includes pediatric cardiologists, intensivists, anesthesiologists, and many others. The roles for each member of the team are well defined and the collaboration brings together the strength and expertise of every member of the team to optimize the care of the heart patients.

The training background of pediatric cardiologists and cardiac surgeons is different. After medical school, the pediatric cardiac surgeons enter a training in general surgery, followed by training in cardiac surgery, and finally pediatric and congenital cardiac surgery. On the other hand, after medical school, the pediatric cardiologists enter a training in pediatrics, followed by pediatric cardiology, with many choosing to pursue additional subspecialized training such as cardiac intervention (cardiac catheterization), heart failure, advanced imaging (MRI, CT scan), electrophysiology (rhythm problems), adult congenital heart disease, and critical care (cardiac ICU management). The total training after medical school for pediatric cardiologists and cardiac surgeons can therefore range between a minimum of 6 years and 11 years.

While pediatric cardiologists don’t perform heart surgery, they work closely with the pediatric cardiac surgeons as part of a multidisciplinary care team to decide on the best treatment for a child. Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, has a number of specialized teams that meet regularly to coordinate patient care.

These teams are focused on cardiac catheterization, electrophysiology, fetal cardiology, heart failure and heart transplantation, cardiac intensive care, pediatric intensive care, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation for acute care of children with lung or heart conditions, cardiac anesthesia and adult congenital heart disease.

Norton Children’s Heart Institute also offers a variety of multidisciplinary clinics for children with complex conditions. The clinics combine the expertise of heart surgeons, cardiologists and other specialists while streamlining care for children and their families, allowing them to see multiple doctors in the same visit and at the same location.

Norton Children’s Heart Institute has multidisciplinary clinics for children receiving Fontan surgery, children with pulmonary hypertension, and for those with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).