Theoretical investigations on the optically pumped IV-VI mid-infrared vertical-cavity surface emitting lasers were made. Key parameters such as Auger recombination and heat dissipation were identified and maximum operating temperature, peak output power, and threshold pumping power were simulated. Unlike other band-to-band mid-IR laser materials, Auger recombination does not limit IV-VI diode lasers to operate at room temperature in continuous wave (cw) mode. However, insufficient heat dissipation is the dominant factor in preventing laser operation at room temperature. The calculated maximum cw operation temperature for a simple active layer design was 282 K and could be further improved for more advanced structures such as quantum well lasers. These results indicate that such lasers are promising for thermoelectrically cooled spectroscopic systems. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.