Cardiologist: Career Profile and Educational Requirements

Individuals interested in working in medicine, particularly in treating disorders of the heart, may consider a career in cardiology. Cardiologists are physicians who specialize in heart conditions and other cardiopulmonary problems. Becoming a cardiologist generally entails several years of training beyond undergraduate school, as well as licensure and board certification.

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Career Profile for a Cardiologist

Patients are typically referred to cardiologists by their regular doctors. These patients may be experiencing symptoms that indicate heart trouble. Cardiologists diagnose and treat heart and blood vessel problems using a combination of physical examination, symptom review and medical testing. Some cardiologists work in private practice centers as consultants to patients' general care practitioners, while others work for universities as researchers and teachers. As part of their practice, cardiologists may perform or recommend procedures like echocardiograms, exercise tests and cardiac catheterizations.

Educational Requirements for a Cardiologist

As with other medical doctors, prospective cardiologists begin their education path by completing at least three years of coursework in undergraduate school with a focus on the basic sciences. They then go on to complete four years of medical school. During medical school, students typically spend the first two years taking courses in basic medicine and physiology. Courses may include cell biology, genetics and immunology. In the final two years, students complete clerkships, diagnosing illnesses and treating patients in clinics.

Postgraduate Training

After completing medical school, training cardiologists go on to complete a 2-6 year residency program in internal medicine. These programs are typically paid and allow residents to gain hands-on experience under the supervision of licensed physicians. Following a residency, aspiring cardiologists undergo up to three years of training in a fellowship program focused on the area of cardiology in which they wish to practice. Schools offer cardiology fellowship programs in a variety of specializations, such as cardiovascular diseases, interventional cardiology and heart failure.

Licensing and Certification Information for Cardiologists

All cardiologists must be licensed in order to practice. Prospective physicians must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). To be eligible to take the USMLE, candidates must hold a degree from an accredited medical school.

The American Board of Internal Medicine offers certification in several cardiology subspecialties, like clinical cardiac electrophysiology, cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology. To become board certified in a subspecialty, candidates must first become certified in internal medicine by meeting educational, clinical and licensing requirements, as well as passing a written exam (www.abim.org). Certification in cardiovascular disease and passage of a specialty exam is also required for certification in a subspecialty.

Career and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide specific information on cardiologists, but it does have statistics on physicians and surgeons. In the 2010-2020 decade, the BLS estimates a faster than average job growth for all surgeons and physicians. A 2012 BLS report states that other types of physicians and surgeons earned over $187,199 in median annual wages.

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