In general, medicine is one of the most difficult fields for a student to get into. In addition, some branches and specialties of medicine are even more complex than others, for instance, cardiology. In order to become a doctor, a person needs to go through many years of schooling, including four years of medical school before going into the residency. After that, they may have to do additional years in their specialty.
Even though students may have the desire to become a doctor in a certain specialty, for instance, cardiology, that can only happen if the student gets matched with a residency program of their choice, one that encompasses cardiology. To do this, students may choose to apply to a medical school that has an excellent reputation.
If they're granted acceptance into one of the best medical schools in the country, then that might increase a student's chances of getting matched with an internal medicine residency before graduating from medical school. From there, they can go on to become a cardiologist.
What Does a Cardiologist Do?
A cardiologist is a very special kind of doctor, that works in diagnosing and treating patients with diseases and conditions of the cardiovascular system. The cardiovascular system involves the heart and blood vessels, and in many cases, if a person is experiencing problems with their heart, it can be very concerning for that patient.
If a person is having any symptoms related to a heart problem, a cardiologist can help figure out what is wrong, and why a patient is having the symptoms. Then, they can decide what the next appropriate steps are for treating the patient.
What Kind of Tests Can a Cardiologist Do?
A cardiologist can conduct a whole array of tests, and what tests they decide to do will depend on the symptoms you come to them with or the concerns that you have. It will also depend on what type of cardiologist you're seeing, as some are able to do more procedures and tests than others (for example, an invasive vs. non-invasive cardiologist).
When you go to the cardiologist as a patient and the doctors ask you about your symptoms or concerns, they will analyze what you're saying based on years of medical training, and decide what test needs to be done in order to diagnose you and determine the cause of your symptoms.
Some of the major or most common tests done by cardiologists are those that most people have probably heard of at some point in their life. That's because many of these tests are quite common and some are used as a means of preventive health screening not just by cardiologists, but other doctors as well:
- Chest x-ray
- Electrocardiogram (EGG or EKG)
- Exercise stress testing
- Cardiac catheterization
Do Cardiologists Have to Do Surgery?
If you're wondering do cardiologists have to do surgery, then the answer is that it depends. Although some cardiologists are able to do some invasive procedures like a cardiac catheterization or plant pacemakers, it really depends on what their specialties are and what they're trained to do.
Though a cardiologist certainly has many different duties, much of what they do involves working to determine a patient's diagnosis, set up a plan for that patient and determine whether or not a patient will need a more serious surgery, like coronary artery bypass surgery. At that point, a cardiologist will refer the patient to a cardiac surgeon or cardiothoracic surgeon.
Why a Patient Would See a Cardiologist
A patient may see a cardiologist after noticing some unique symptoms that he or she is experiencing. These symptoms are likely new for the patient, and serious enough that they're causing some level of concern for the patient. Of course, if you're noticing any of these symptoms, you should see your general practitioner right away or seek emergency medical attention. Your doctor can then decide if you need to be referred to a cardiologist:
- Heart pain or pain and pressure in the chest
- Pain or discomfort in the shoulders, neck, arm, etc.
- Chest pain combined with sweating, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, etc.
- Hoarseness in the voice
- Difficulty swallowing
- Heart palpations
A person may also choose to see a cardiologist because they want to be proactive about their healthcare after having concerns based on other medical issues:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Current or past smoker
- Issues with pregnancy
- Gum disease
- A family history of heart problems
Lastly, a person can also potentially seek out the care of a cardiologist after something extreme happens, like a heart attack. After being stabilized at the hospital, they will usually be connected to a cardiologist that can help determine the cause of the attack, and decide on a plan for the patient.
Are Cardiologists in Demand?
Heart disease is still one of the leading causes of death in the United States, taking the lives of over 630,000 people each year. Heart disease is very common in people who smoke or used to smoke, are overweight, don't exercise often and don't eat what's considered a "healthy" diet. It's also more common in men.
That being said, even though these are the main risk factors, heart disease doesn't discriminate. It typically involves a range of different conditions that lead to disease of the heart, including, but not limited to, coronary heart disease, heart arrhythmias and heart defects.
Unfortunately, because of this, many patients around the country will need to see a cardiologist if and when they notice something wrong (hopefully, before anything serious happens). And when more and more people have issues with their heart, then cardiologists become very much in demand.
In fact, it was predicted in 2013 by a projection published in Health Affairs that the need for cardiology will grow 20 percent by the year 2025, and this will primarily be due to the rise of affordable health care, making doctors like cardiologists more accessible to everyone. This is obviously great news for the cardiologists and patients who need them, but it's also bad news in terms of the fact that such serious issues exist among the population.
How to Become a Cardiologist
In order to become a cardiologist, a student will have to go through many years of schooling, training and test-taking to be able to practice this specific branch of medicine. If you're interested in becoming a doctor or more specifically a cardiologist, you must first go through four years of undergraduate school to earn your bachelor's degree.
After that, you will need to attend four years of medical school, three years of a residency program in internal medicine, and another three years of specialized training in cardiology, sometimes referred to as a fellowship. You will also need to take your licensing exams in order to be allowed to practice as a doctor.
The Best Medical School for Cardiology
If you're interested in becoming a cardiologist, it's important to understand that all future doctors will have to go through medical school, first, before being able to choose what specific field of medicine they want to go into. In medical school, you don't specialize in your desired field just yet. You will learn all the skills and training that it takes to become a doctor, and afterwards, you can further your education in the specific field you want. The best medical school for cardiology can depend on several factors.
In order to even become a cardiologist, you also have to be matched in an internal medicine residency, which can be very hard to do. Before that happens, though, you may want to choose to go to a good medical school. Since there's no such thing as a medical school that specializes in a specific field, you can instead look at those medical schools that are simply considered the highest ranked in the country, according to U.S. News:
- Johns Hopkins University
- New York University (Langone)
- Stanford University
- University of California-San Francisco
- Mayo Clinic School of Medicine
- University of Pennsylvania (Perelman)
- University of California-Los Angeles
- Washington University-St. Louis
- Duke University
- Columbia University
- University of Washington-Seattle
- Yale University
Different Specializations of Cardiology
Cardiology has a ton of different specializations, and for students who get matched to an internal medicine residency, they may have the option to further their studies and their training to work in a more specific and complex branch of internal medicine, one of those being cardiology and the sub-specialties of cardiology. Some of the best internal medicine programs for cardiology include:
- Invasive or non-invasive cardiology
- Cardiothoracic surgeon
- Nuclear cardiologist
What Is the Average Starting Salary for a Cardiologist?
The starting salary of a cardiologist depends on the state and hospital that the cardiologist is working in, and that number can really vary greatly. If you're wondering what is the average starting salary for a cardiologist, the median salary for a cardiologist is said to be more than $240,000, with some cardiologists making up to $500,000 annually as they gain more experience in their position.
Of course, cardiologists that have an additional specialty will usually be at the higher end of the salary spectrum. Needless to say, cardiologists are one of the highest-paid specialists in the country.
Why Become a Cardiologist?
Because cardiologists are constantly in demand and because their salary is so high, it's no doubt a great field of medicine to be in. For a patient, a cardiologist could truly be the difference between life or death. Cardiologists can also be instrumental in improving the quality of life for a patient with a heart condition, and they can also be vital when it comes to detecting a condition early-on in a patient.
Cardiologists can provide care and treatment for a patient that they really can't get from any other doctor. This means that the profession can be extremely rewarding as a job and as a lifestyle. However, all this considered, it's important that a person takes time to consider how demanding it can be to be a cardiologist or really any doctor.
What Happens if You Can't Specialize in Cardiology?
Some people may grow up thinking, "I want to be a cardiologist one day." As ambitious as that goal is, it's more fitting to think, "I want to be a doctor one day" instead. In certain ways, it's much easier to become an M.D. than a specific kind of doctor, as med students may not always get matched with the specialty that they've had in mind for themselves. This is why students choose more than one specialty that interests them when they're in medical school.
If the most important thing to you is becoming a doctor, then it's necessary to keep an open mind. Once you get into med school (a major achievement, by the way), you will learn about different branches of medicine and may become suddenly interested in becoming a doctor in a field that you had never considered before. Then, you will get to rank the specialties you're most interested in working in, and hopefully, you will be matched with at least one of your choices.