Meet Our Team

Meet Mark J. Cunningham, MD

Originally published July 11, 2016

Last reviewed December 29, 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Dr. Cunningham is a cardiothoracic surgeon at Keck Medicine of USC, who specializes in cardiac surgery.

Here’s what you won’t find on his resume.

Space and medicine filled his dreams.

“While I always wanted to be a heart surgeon, my journey to medicine started as an aerospace engineer at NASA Langley Research Center designing futuristic rockets.”

Family and travel fill his free time.

“When I’m not working, I usually spend time hanging out with my family. I also like to travel, run on the beach and go to Catalina Island.”

He has big aspirations.

“There are a few things I have yet to check off my personal bucket list. I want to orbit the Earth, patent an idea to revolutionize cardiac care and attend my daughter’s college graduation.”

He has an inspiring role model.

“If I could trade careers with anyone, it would be with Craig Venter. He is an American biotechnologist and entrepreneur who is known for being one of the first people to sequence the human genome and the first to transfect a cell with a synthetic genome. He has the intellectual ability to tackle advanced genetics, the courage to challenge the establishment and the entrepreneurial spirit to advance science clinically.“

He abides by a simple piece of advice.

“The best advice I ever received was ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t break it.’”

He has strong technical skills.

“At NASA, I spent a lot of time behind a computer. The reason I applied to medical school was to get out from behind a computer and work more with people; cardiac surgery allows me to merge my technical and human interests.”

Recovery is key to his happiness.

“The most rewarding part of my job is when I see a heart transplant patient walking through the lobby as if they never had a heart transplant.”

He constantly improves his craft.

“I believe patients deserve the best care available. While our discipline is incredibly advanced, new technology drives our ability to care for people even better. That inspires me to always seek to implement new technology and techniques.”

Overcoming challenges happens every day.

“The most challenging part of the day is to try and achieve all the various aspects of being a cardiac surgeon. There’s education, research, patient care and administrative duties. I have to somehow manage to make sure each is attended to daily.”

Keck Medicine is your team.

“Cardiovascular thoracic surgery is truly a team sport where everyone — on and off the field — has to focus on the ball. This often requires significant personal commitment and, all too often, sacrifices. Everyone on the team is always willing to step up to the plate and try their best.”

View Dr. Cunningham’s full biography and schedule an appointment.


cardiac surgery
cardiothoracic surgery
Dr. Mark J. Cunningham