Last Updated: 03/17/15
What is Cardiology?
Physicians who specialize in cardiology diagnose, treat and prevent diseases of the cardiovascular system, which includes the heart and blood vessels. Most patients visit a cardiologist as a referral from their primary care provider as a way to rule out or diagnose a particular cardiovascular health issue. Some of the diagnostic tools cardiologists use include echocardiograms, exercise tests and cardiac catheterizations. Cardiologists also often counsel patients on proper diet and other aspects of preventive heart health care.
As a cardiologist you can work in hospitals, clinics or private practices. Some cardiologists work as consultants to patients’ general care practitioners and there are also opportunities to work in academia as researchers or professors. Many cardiologists report working at least 60 hours a week, and many spend time being on-call for consultations or to interpret different diagnostic tests and make recommendations for emergency treatment.
In a 2012 lifestyle report published by Medscape, cardiologists ranked their happiness on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the happiest. The average ranking for this type of physician was 3.92, with the majority of respondents reporting a 4 on the happiness scale. In this same report, Medscape found that an overwhelming number of cardiologists report being married, over 85% of respondents.
To practice cardiology you must first complete at least three years of undergraduate coursework, preferably with a concentration on basic sciences. You must then complete four years of medical school, which will including courses in physiology and basic medicine as well as more advanced courses like genetics and cell biology. You will then go on to a rigorous 2 to 6 year residency program in internal medicine. Many of these programs provide a stipend and are an excellent way to learn the field in a hands-on approach supervised by a licensed physician. After completion of the residency, you will have to complete one to three years in a fellowship program that focuses on cardiology. It is during this final phase where you can choose a more specialized training in cardiovascular diseases, interventional cardiology or heart failure. Also, before being able to practice as a cardiologist you will have to pass the Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
The average salary for an established cardiologist is around $220,000. However the salary can range from the lowest, around $150,000, to the highest, around $450,000. Of course your salary will depend on what type of facility you work in, what state you work in, what specialty training you might have and how long you have been practicing. According to a 2010 report published in Forbes, the salary for cardiologists has nearly doubled since the early 1990s.
The outlook for cardiology continues to be very good as more and more people are diagnosed with some type of health issue with their cardiovascular system. Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States, so there is always a need for a physician trained in helping prevent and treat this disease. Physicians who have received significant training in a specialized area, such as cardiology, often have a better outlook for opportunities and better salaries.