Surgeons are traditionally categorized as working either in academic or private/community practice, but some transition between the two environments. Here, we profile current academic cardiothoracic surgeons who began their attending careers in private or community practice. We hypothesized that research activity may distinguish cardiothoracic surgeons who started in non-academic versus academic practice.
Publicly available data regarding professional history and research productivity were collected for 992 academic cardiothoracic surgeons on faculty at the 77 cardiothoracic surgery training programs in the United States in 2018. Data are presented as medians analyzed with the Mann-Whitney test or proportions analyzed with Fisher exact test or the χ test.
A total of 80 (8.1%) academic cardiothoracic surgery faculty started their careers in non-academic practice, and 912 (91.9%) started directly in academia. Those who started in non-academic practice spent a median 7.0 y in private/community practice and were more likely to be cardiac surgeons (68.8% vs 51.6%, P = .0132). They were equally likely to pursue a protected research fellowship (56.3% vs 57.0%, P = .9067) and publish research during training (92.5% vs 91.1%, P = .8374), but they published fewer total papers by the end of cardiothoracic surgery fellowship (3.0 vs 7.0, P = .0001) and fewer papers per year as an academic attending (0.8 vs 2.9, P < .0001). Nevertheless, the majority of cardiothoracic surgery faculty who started in non-academic practice are currently active in research (68.8%), and 2 such surgeons received National Institutes of Health R01 funding.
Transitioning from non-academic to academic practice is an uncommon but feasible pathway for interested cardiothoracic surgeons.

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