Last Updated: 03/17/15
Physicians who practice endocrinology diagnose and treat the various disease that cause an imbalance of hormones produced by the pituitary glands, pancreas, thyroid and other internal organs. These physicians must be highly trained because many of these disorders are very complex and involve several different systems in the body. Disorders of the endocrine system include thyroid diseases, diabetes, menopause, metabolic disorders, infertility, osteoporosis, cholesterol disorders, hypertension, stunted growth and cancers of the endocrine glands, just to name a few. Some of the things you might do as an endocrinologist include diagnosing diabetes and teaching patients how to control their blood sugar, prescribing and monitoring hormone replacement therapy for women in menopause and creating diet and exercise regimens for patients who have lipid disorders. Endocrinologists are also trained in various diagnostic tests and procedures such as bone density tests, fine-needle biopsies and blood glucose monitoring.
There are a few different career paths if you decide to become an endocrinologist. As a clinical endocrinologist you might work in a hospital, clinic or private practice seeing patients on a regular daily basis, and sometimes be on-call for consultations. Another route you could take is being a research endocrinologist, a position in which you conduct experiments and do other types of research to determine the best methods to treat endocrine disorders or develop new drugs and treatment. If you chose the research path you might find work with a pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions or public research institutes. A 2012 Medscape poll showed that endocrinologists were less happy than many other specialists, with a happiness score of 3.89 (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the happiest). This score ranked seventh from the bottom of the specialty list. Endocrinologists usually work anywhere from 40 to 60 hours per week.
In order to practice endocrinology, you must first complete four years of medical school followed by a three to four year residency program. During your residency you will learn internal medicine, pediatrics, and gynecology/obstetrics, as all of these areas will help you better understand the endocrine system and different ways endocrine disorders can affect the various body systems. You will then have to complete a two to three years of intense training in a fellowship where you will learn how to diagnose and treat endocrine disorders. It is during the fellowship where you might also focus your study in one of the subspecialties: diabetes, pediatric disorders, thyroid, or reproductive and menstrual disorders. Before you can legally practice as a endocrinologist you will have to pass a certification exam as well as the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
Endocrinologists generally make between $171,000 to $260,000 a year, depending on what type of facility you work in. Those in private practices make the most when compared to other types of facilities. According to a March 2012 Salary.com report, the median annual salary for endocrinologists was just over $193,000. According to a 2011 Medscape poll, endocrinologists who work in the southeastern part of the US make the most money. This same poll found that 62% of respondents thought they were not fairly compensated for their work.
The job outlook and growth potential for endocrinology are both excellent. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that this field has a projected 22% growth from 2008-2018. Diabetes seems like it is forever on the rise and according to a 2012 New York Times article thyroid cancer is becoming one of the fastest-growing cancers, so it seems there will only be a greater demand for endocrinologists in the future.