Job Search

Neurosurgeon vs. Cardiothoracic Surgeon: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Neurosurgery and cardiothoracic surgery are two medical specialties with a high level of training and responsibility. Both surgeons operate on patients to correct or prevent health problems, but the procedures they perform and the patients they see differ. In this article, we compare neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons, including their training, duties and average salary.

What is a Neurosurgeon?

Neurosurgeons are doctors who specialize in the surgical treatment of disorders of the nervous system, which includes the brain, spine and nerves. They use a variety of diagnostic tests to determine the cause of a patient’s condition and develop a treatment plan. Neurosurgeons may perform surgery to remove tumors, correct deformities or relieve pressure on the nervous system. They may also use less invasive techniques, such as endoscopy, to treat conditions. Neurosurgeons often work with other medical professionals, such as neurologists, to provide comprehensive care for their patients.

What is a Cardiothoracic Surgeon?

A Cardiothoracic Surgeon is a medical doctor who specializes in the surgical treatment of diseases affecting the heart, lungs and chest. Cardiothoracic Surgeons work closely with other medical specialists to provide comprehensive care for their patients. They perform operations to correct congenital heart defects, treat coronary artery disease, remove cancerous tumors from the chest and repair damaged valves. Cardiothoracic Surgeons use a variety of surgical techniques and may employ minimally invasive procedures when possible. They work in hospitals, private practices and research institutions.

Neurosurgeon vs. Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Here are the main differences between a neurosurgeon and a cardiothoracic surgeon.

Job Duties

Both neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons perform surgery to treat medical issues. However, their daily job duties can differ based on the type of procedures they specialize in performing. Neurosurgeons typically focus on surgeries that involve the brain and spinal cord. They may routinely perform procedures like removing a brain tumor or repairing a torn spinal disc.

Cardiothoracic surgeons typically focus on heart and lung-related procedures. These doctors may perform operations like inserting a pacemaker or performing a coronary artery bypass graft. Both types of surgeons must complete years of training and earn certification from the American Board of Medical Specialties before they can call themselves a specialist in their field.

Job Requirements

Both neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons must complete a four-year undergraduate degree before attending medical school. During medical school, they will complete four years of training and receive their Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). After medical school, both types of surgeons must complete a five-year residency program in their chosen specialty. Some surgeons may choose to complete an additional fellowship for one to two years after their residency.

To become licensed, all surgeons must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Cardiothoracic surgeons must also pass the American Board of Thoracic Surgery certification exam. There is no specific certification exam for neurosurgeons, but they must be certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery.

Work Environment

Neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons work in different environments. Neurosurgeons typically work in hospitals, where they perform surgeries on patients with brain-related conditions. They may also work in private practices or clinics to treat patients who have neurological disorders. Cardiothoracic surgeons usually work in hospitals, but some may work in private practices as well. These doctors often travel to the locations of their patients for surgery.


Both neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons need excellent manual dexterity to perform surgery. This is because they both work with delicate tissues and organs in the body. They also both need a high level of stamina as surgeries can often last several hours.

Both neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons need to have excellent problem-solving skills. This is because they are often faced with complex medical problems that require them to think critically to find the best solution.

Neurosurgeons need to have a strong understanding of neuroscience, which is the study of the nervous system. This includes the brain, spinal cord and nerves. Cardiothoracic surgeons need to have a strong understanding of cardiovascular physiology, which is the study of the heart and blood vessels.

While both neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons need to be excellent communicators, neurosurgeons may need to use these skills more frequently as they often work with patients who have neurological disorders. This is because they need to be able to explain complex medical concepts to patients and their families. Cardiothoracic surgeons may not need to use their communication skills as frequently as they typically work with patients who have cardiac or thoracic disorders.


Neurosurgeons earn an average salary of $359,870 per year, while cardiothoracic surgeons earn an average salary of $294,414 per year. Both of these salaries can vary depending on the location of the job, the level of experience and the type of employer.


Office Manager vs. Bookkeeper: What Are the Differences?

Back to Job Search

Marketing Coordinator vs. Marketing Manager: What Are the Differences?