Atrial fibrillation (AF) after cardiac surgery is thought to increase length of stay (LOS). A clinical pathway focused on the management of postoperative AF, including prophylaxis with β blockers, was implemented to assess the effect of AF on LOS after cardiac surgery. Data were obtained on consecutive cardiac surgery patients in preoperative normal sinus rhythm, no prior history of AF, and no chronic antiarrhythmic therapy from January to May 1995 (control) and November 1996 to June 1997 (pathway). Statistical analysis was performed to assess the effect of postoperative AF on the LOS, clinical outcomes, and cost after cardiac surgery. Despite the clinical pathway, the LOS (7 days for both periods; p = 0.12) and incidence of AF (28.9% vs 28.4%; p = 0.92) remained unchanged. Unadjusted direct costs were 15% higher in the pathway period (p <0.001). Increased rates of β-blocker therapy had a marginal effect on the incidence of postoperative AF, except in the group who only underwent primary coronary artery bypass graft surgery (31.2% vs 25.3%; p = 0.31). Multivariate analysis revealed that AF contributed only 1 to 1.5 days to the LOS. Thus, this investigation represents the most recent analysis of the effects of postoperative AF on LOS, clinical outcomes, and cost after cardiac surgery. Unlike prior studies, the impact of postoperative AF is less prominent in the current era of cardiac surgical care regardless of the presence of a clinical pathway addressing AF.