With the worldwide prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, much attention has been focused on simulating the characteristics of the human heart to better understand and treat cardiac disorders. The purpose of this study is to build a finite element model of the left atrium (LA) that incorporates detailed anatomical features and realistic material characteristics to investigate the interaction of heart tissue and surgical instruments. This model is used to facilitate the design of an endoscopically deployable atrial retractor for use in minimally invasive, robotically assisted mitral valve repair. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of a pressurized explanted porcine heart were taken to provide a 3D solid model of the heart geometry, while uniaxial tensile tests of porcine left atrial tissue were conducted to obtain realistic material properties for noncontractile cardiac tissue. A finite element model of the LA was constructed using ANSYS ™ Release 9.0 software and the MRI data. The Mooney–Rivlin hyperelastic material model was chosen to characterize the passive left atrial tissue; material constants were derived from tensile test data. Finite element analysis (FEA) models of a CardioVations Port Access™ retractor and a prototype endoscopic retractor were constructed to simulate interaction between each instrument and the LA. These contact simulations were used to compare the quality of retraction between the two instruments and to optimize the design of the prototype retractor. Model accuracy was verified by comparing simulated cardiac wall deflections to those measured by MRI. FEA simulations revealed that peak forces of approximately and were required to retract the LA using the Port Access™ and prototype retractors, respectively. These forces varied nonlinearly with retractor blade displacement. Dilation of the atrial walls and rigid body motion of the chamber were approximately the same for both retractors. Finite element analysis is shown to be an effective tool for analyzing instrument/tissue interactions and for designing surgical instruments. The benefits of this approach to medical device design are significant when compared to the alternatives: constructing prototypes and evaluating them via animal or clinical trials.