Independent Cardiothoracic Residency Program

Program Description

The division of cardiothoracic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC is committed to offering its residents excellence in all aspects of cardiothoracic training. The program is designed to address the basic fund of knowledge in our field, establish excellent technical skills and develop the finest cardiothoracic surgeons in the country. Under the leadership of Vaughn Starnes, MD, chair of the Department of Surgery, the division of cardiothoracic surgery has remained at the forefront of new technology. This enables our trainees to offer cutting-edge techniques to potential practice opportunities upon graduation.

The core curriculum and extensive case volume, combined with the diversity of the hospitals in which our residents train, help ensure that these goals are met. When residents complete the program, they are highly skilled in the operating room, academically comprehensive, and have earned the respect of their peers and faculty.


The Cardiothoracic Surgery Training Program has enjoyed a long tradition in leadership, beginning in 1948 under the tutelage of founder John Jones, MD, a pioneer in thoracic surgery. Dr. Jones administered the program throughout his long and prestigious career at the Hospital of the Good Samaritan and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Accreditation was granted by the ACGME in 1965.

The transition of the primary program site from the Hospital of the Good Samaritan to the Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center began in 1990. This was driven by several events that impacted the academic environment. The appointment of Tom DeMeester, MD, as professor and chairman, Department of Surgery at USC; the opening of the new Keck Hospital of USC in 1991; and in 1992, the appointment of Vaughn A. Starnes, MD, as the co-chairman, Department of Surgery, and chief, cardiothoracic surgery, led to a logical transition of the program to the University. Dr. Starnes assumed the role of the director of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Training Program upon his arrival at USC, and resident activity was concentrated at LAC+USC Medical Center, Keck Hospital of USC/Norris Cancer Center and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. In 1995, Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena was added as a training site. Over the following decade, the Cardiothoracic training program at USC evolved into one of the premier training sites in the United States, producing highly qualified and talented cardiothoracic surgeons. In 2004, Dr. Winfield Wells was appointed program director after numerous years serving as a tireless resident advocate. He ushered in a new era of training, ensuring academic excellence in a changing environment. As a reflection of continued growth and advancement, in 2006, Dr. Starnes was appointed executive director of the newly formed CardioVascular Thoracic Institute. This integrated model breaks down traditional barriers in patient care and allows collaboration between cardiothoracic and vascular surgeons, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, pulmonologists and basic scientists working as one, without the domains of departments or specialties. In addition to permitting delivery of preeminent patient care in the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular and thoracic diseases, the CVTI allows training of a new breed of surgeon cross-trained in different disciplines.

In 2006, Dr. Starnes was appointed chair of the Department of Surgery. Craig J. Baker, MD, was appointed as the vice chair of surgical education at that time and assumed the role of program director of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Training Program in 2010. Dr. Baker has achieved national recognition for his involvement in cardiothoracic education. He developed a comprehensive educational curriculum, including a highly structured simulation training program. In 2011, the Cardiothoracic Surgery Training Program at USC was approved as the first integrated (I-6) residency program in Southern California. In 2017, Dr. Baker was appointed the Chief of the Division of Cardiac Surgery.

Hospital Rotation Sites

LAC+USC Medical Center

LAC+USC is one of the largest public hospitals in the country, complete with a Level I Trauma Center, a Burn Unit, and a Level III neonatal unit. Residents have unmatched autonomy in working with a diverse caseload from across Southern California.

Keck Hospital of USC

Nationally ranked Keck Hospital offers innovative surgical treatments for some of the most complex cases in Southern California. Other hospitals in the region routinely send us their toughest cases for advanced tertiary and quaternary care. Our active participation in numerous clinical trials offers residents and fellows the opportunity to see the latest devices and techniques before they are in common use.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

This nonprofit facility is a research powerhouse and consistently rated as one of the top pediatric hospitals in the country. Residents have the opportunity to train at a nationally ranked hospital with a caseload from around the country.

Huntington Memorial Hospital

Huntington Memorial has been a part of the Pasadena community for more than 125 years. Our surgical partner has been recognized by numerous organizations for patient safety and quality of care.


The Independent Cardiothoracic Training Program at USC is currently accepting applications for two residents per year and accepts application through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS). You must also register with the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).

Our requirements for application include:

  • Common application form
  • Personal statement
  • Medical school transcripts
  • MSPE/dean’s letter
  • Letters of recommendation (minimum of three)
  • Photograph
  • USMLE transcripts
  • ABSITE transcripts
  • ECFMG status report – foreign graduates only

Contact Information

Mitzi V. Clendening
Residency/Fellowship Administrator
Division of Surgical Education
Department of Surgery
1520 San Pablo Street, Suite 4300
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Phone: (323) 442-7824
Fax: (323) 442-6887

Craig J. Baker, MD
Program Director
Vice Chair, Surgical Education