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Surgeon or specialist? What a vascular surgeon really does all day.

So you've been referred to a vascular surgeon. Oftentimes, people are uncertain about exactly what a vascular surgeon does. The answer goes well beyond just surgery.

Vascular surgeons are specialists who are highly trained to treat diseases of the vascular system. Your blood vessels - arteries carrying oxygen-rich blood and veins carrying blood back to the heart - are the roadways of your circulatory system. Without smoothly flowing blood, your body cannot function. Conditions such as hardening of the arteries can create “traffic jams” in your circulatory system, obstructing the flow of blood to any part of the body.

Vascular specialists manage veins and arteries in every part of the body except the brain and the heart.

For example, vascular surgeons handle blocked carotid arteries in the neck. They treat the problems of the aorta (a large main artery) after it leaves the heart and enters the abdomen. Peripheral vascular disease, which often affects the arteries in the legs and feet, also is treated by a vascular surgeon.

What does a vascular surgeon spend most of their time doing?

While vascular surgeons are well trained in vascular surgery, often the care patients receive is not surgical in nature. Vascular specialists spend much of their clinical day making the diagnosis or making recommendations for continued care. Many vascular problems are chronic, requiring a non-surgical approach to care such as medication and exercise. The doctor-patient relationship can become a long-term one.

Vascular surgeons are the only physicians treating vascular disease today who can perform all treatment options available, including medical management, minimally invasive endovascular procedures including balloon angioplasty, atherectomy, and stent procedures, and open surgical repair including bypass. Only when you see a vascular surgeon who offers all treatment modalities will you be assured of receiving the care that is most appropriate to your condition.

How should patients choose a vascular surgeon?

Typically, patients are referred to a vascular surgeon by their primary care physician. Sometimes patients become acquainted with a vascular surgeon after an unexpected event lands them in the hospital. You might be referred to a vascular surgeon if you see your regular doctor for pain in your legs, and learn that you have peripheral arterial disease, for example. If you are in a high-risk category (are a smoker, diabetic, and/or have high blood pressure) you may be a candidate for starting a relationship with a vascular surgeon.

When choosing a vascular specialist, consider personal preferences such as communication style, bedside manner, years of experience, gender and skill level. Look at reputation, where they practice and hospital affiliations, how long they’ve practiced, institutions where they trained, whether they’re board certified and membership in the Society of Vascular Surgery. Membership signifies a physician’s level of commitment to high quality care. Use the search feature on its website to see if your doctor is a member.

Any tips for researching which doctor is right for a patient's needs?

In addition, you should verify whether the doctor you're considering is board-certified in vascular surgery. You can search for board-certified physicians on the American Board of Surgery's website.

To avoid a "bad surgeon," check with your state's licensing board to see whether any disciplinary actions have been taken against the physician you're considering. These records are public and usually easily found via the state medical licensure board's website.

Finally, “word of mouth” is valuable. Ask around and get reviews from friends, patients and other health care providers you trust.

We appreciate your confidence in the surgeons at Midwest Aortic & Vascular Institute. If we can answer any questions about our surgeons, their backgrounds or credentials, please give us a call at (816) 842-5555 or email us at

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