Background: We aimed to investigate the impact of taking dedicated time for research (DTR) during training and/or getting a PhD on subsequent career achievements of US academic cardiothoracic surgeons. Methods: Online resources (institutional Web sites, CTSNet, Scopus, NIH RePORTER) were queried to collect training information (timing of medical school/residency/fellowship graduation, DTR, PhD) and academic metrics (publications, citations, research funding) for 694 academic cardiothoracic surgeons practicing at 56 premiere US institutions. Results: Excluding missing data, 464 (75 %) surgeons took DTR and 156 (25 %) did not; 629 (91 %) were MD only and 65 (9 %) also had a PhD. DTR was associated with higher number of ongoing publications (~5.6/year vs. ~3.8/year), with no difference for accrued number of total citations. History of DTR was more prevalent among surgeons with versus without NIH funding (87 vs. 71 %; p < 0.001), but no difference was seen across academic ranks and among those who were division/department chiefs. No overall increase in publications/citations, academic rank advancement, NIH funding, or leadership roles was found for those with a PhD. Conclusions: Among cardiothoracic surgeons, devoting time during the training years exclusively to research might be associated with higher career-long academic productivity in terms of annual number new publications and ability to get NIH funding, but without significant impact in terms of academic rank or institutional role advancement. No significant difference was found between those with versus without a PhD in terms of career-long number of publications/citations, academic rank, NIH funding, or leadership role, even though sample size might have been insufficient to identify any such potential difference.