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Cardiologist: Career Profile and Educational Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a cardiologist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties, licensure and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

While you may be drawn to a career as a cardiologist because of their impressive annual salary, there are many other important factors to consider. No doubt a six figure salary is enticing but its important to weigh this against the extensive educational requirements--including med school, residency and a fellowship--as well as the high pressure nature of the job. Continue on to learn more.

Essential Information

Cardiologists (heart doctors) are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating disorders of the heart. In total, following high school, it generally takes 13-14 years to become a cardiologist. State licensure is required, and board certification is desired by nearly all employers.

Required Education Medical school (4 years),
Internal medicine residency (3 years),
Cardiology fellowship (2-3 years)
Licensure & Certification State licensure required,
Board certification desired by most employers
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% for all types of physicians and surgeons*
Median Annual Salary (2015) $358,778 for non-invasive cardiologists**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

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 prerequisite premedical undergraduate courses. While bachelor's degrees technically are not required, the majority of matriculating medical students have them.

After college, medical school must be completed to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) degree. During medical school, students typically spend the first two years taking more courses in biology, anatomy, basic medicine, physiology, and pathophysiology. In the final two years, students complete supervised clerkships, diagnosing illnesses and treating patients in clinics.

Postgraduate Training

After completing medical school, training cardiologists go on to complete a 3 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 five years of training in fellowship programs 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 (invasive) 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

According to Salary.com, cardiologists (non-invasive/non-interventional) made a median annual salary of $358,778 as of 2016. Further sub-specialization to become invasive (interventional) cardiologists increases salary potential even more. According to Salary.com, invasive cardiologists made a median annual salary of $390,246 as of 2016.

If you think you can handle the pressures of the career, and are willing to complete many years of postgraduate education, then you're ready to take your first step toward a high-paying career as a cardiologist.

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