Cardiology is a subset of the field of internal medicine. Accordingly, becoming a cardiologist is no easy task. It requires many years of education, and cardiologists are expected to continue to update their training throughout their career.
Despite the long, difficult path required for becoming a cardiologist, most physicians don’t regret their decision. Their choice of medical sub-specialty puts them in a position to make positive changes in the lives of their patients. In fact, it can be said that cardiologists literally save lives on a near daily basis.
Moreover, cardiologists are remarkably well compensated with salary and benefits. If there are drawbacks to becoming a cardiologist, they are probably all related to the demanding nature of the career. This is a high stress occupation which may require working unconventional hours. Nonetheless, since cardiology is much more like a calling than a job, most surgeons who choose this specialty are well satisfied with their selection.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Cardiologist?
Most people who become a cardiologist begin with a four year degree program in a major like biology, chemistry or pre-med studies. Afterward, they attend medical school, which typically requires about four years of full time study. The specialty in cardiology is obtained through a fellowship program at a university hospital. These fellowships generally last for about three to eight years.
Medical school applicants must complete a bachelor’s degree before applying. The majority of medical schools do not require students to have completed a specific study path for their undergraduate degree. However, the student who is fairly clear about their ultimate career goal will find it beneficial to focus on undergraduate courses in chemistry, biology, anatomy, mathematics and physics.
Getting accepted into medical school is no easy task. It is a highly competitive process, and not everyone gets accepted into a medical degree program on their first attempt. Applicants must submit transcripts from their undergraduate degree that demonstrate exceptional performance. Additionally, applicants must complete the Medical College Admission Test, which demonstrates their aptitude for the field. Recommendations from personal, professional and academic contacts are also typically required. The applicant should also be prepared for an intensive interview process in which members of an admissions committee will assess their skills and qualifications for entry into the program.
For the first two years, medical students spend most of their time in classrooms and laboratories. This introduces them to the basic skills and knowledge they will need when they begin working with patients in the next two years of their education. During this latter half of their medical school training, students work closely with highly trained physicians and surgeons and complete rotations in several areas of medical specialties. Throughout this time, they are learning to work effectively with patients, diagnosing and treating ailments in a hospital or clinical setting.
After graduating from medical school, the doctor then joins an internship or residency program. It is during this time that they begin to work on their specialty as a cardiologist in earnest. For a period of between three and eight years, the length of time required varies between states, doctors work closely with seasoned cardiologists to develop the clinical judgment and overall knowledge required to specialize in cardiology.
Certification of cardiologists is not required in any state. However, obtaining certification through an entity like the American Board of Medical Specialties may prove to be valuable. The ABMS estimates that as many as 85% of physicians who specialize have chosen to become certified. Several benefits of obtaining certification include lowered malpractice premiums and the ability to run a more efficient practice. Moreover, an increasing number of employers and patients are looking for certified cardiologists. That’s because becoming certified demonstrates a focus on the ongoing improvement of patient care.
Becoming a cardiologist requires obtaining a license from the state board. The requirements for licensing vary from state to state. However, applicants must hold a degree from an accredited medical school and have completed the cardiologist residency training in their state. They must also pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, which is a standardized test used throughout the U.S. The examination consists of three complementary parts that are designed to test the individual’s readiness for medical practice. Students must apply in advance to take the examination and pay a fee in order to be placed on the testing schedule. The state’s medical board uses the test results to determine the applicant’s eligibility for licensing.