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Cardiac Pathology Education Requirements and Career Information

Sep 27, 2019

Learn about the education, training and experience required to become a licensed cardiac pathologist, and explore the job duties of doctors in this specialized occupation in order to determine if this is the career for you.

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The education requirements for a career in cardiac pathology are significant, and involve completing a bachelor's degree in a program such as premedical sciences or biology, followed by medical school. Completing a residency in anatomic pathology, usually lasting about three years, is then required, after which graduates are eligible to write an exam to obtain state licensure. A one- to two-year fellowship program is also available for licensed cardiac pathologists, which can be highly beneficial when finding employment.

Essential Information

Cardiac pathologists are doctors who have the specialized training necessary to make heart disease diagnoses based on direct examination of the heart and its components. They typically work in hospital pathology departments or medical centers dedicated to cardiology, or at medical research institutions. Employment in this capacity requires 4-6 years of graduate medical education and certification.

Required Education Bachelor's degree, M.D. licensure by State
Other Requirements ABMS licensure by State
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 7% for physicians and surgeons*
Median Annual Salary (2018) $200,890 for physicians and surgeons*

Source *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov)

Those interested in cardiac pathology should start with a bachelor's degree in the biological sciences in preparation for medical school. Upon finishing medical school, aspiring cardiac pathologists must complete a pathology residency and earn medical licensure.

College and Medical School

Several undergraduate programs can prepare students for medical school, including those in biology, chemistry or premedical sciences. No matter their undergraduate major, students should make sure their coursework includes all of the classes required to be eligible for admission to medical school. Once in medical school, students can use the flexibility of their third and fourth years to prepare for an anatomic pathology residency program by taking electives in internal medicine and pathology.

Anatomic Pathology Residency

Starting a residency in anatomic pathology is the next step after completing medical school. Typically three years in length, an anatomic pathology residency includes education in the diagnosis of disease based on a visual examination of organs and tissues. Dissection, sample preparation and examination are the main areas of training. Components of the curriculum include research seminars by pathology fellows and faculty, case study conferences on gross and microscopic pathology, work rounds and grand rounds by invited speakers.

Residents can do rotations in sub specialties of anatomic pathology, including autopsy, surgical pathology, cytopathology and forensic pathology. It is also recommended, and sometimes required, that residents participate in research that the program faculty is conducting.

Medical Licensure and Specialty Certification

After completing a residency program, aspiring doctors are eligible to take their state board exams to gain a medical license. They can also receive certification of a specialty in anatomic pathology through the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) after passing the specialty board exams in that subject.

Cardiovascular Pathology Fellowship

Fellowships in cardiovascular pathology are available for those doctors who have successfully completed a residency and are board certified in anatomic pathology. These fellowships last 1-2 years. They require fellows to study thousands of cardiovascular specimens, pictures and slides in order to maximize their knowledge of the variations of cardiovascular disease. Fellows will also review autopsies and make diagnoses on cardiac biopsies under faculty supervision.

Other duties include teaching courses on cardiac pathology for residents, becoming involved with research being carried out by faculty or designing an independent research project. While cardiac pathology is not a sub specialty of anatomic pathology recognized through certification by the ABMS, completing a fellowship will highly increase eligibility for employment with a cardiac pathology department over an applicant with only the anatomic pathology certification.

Maintaining Certification through Continuing Medical Education

The anatomic pathology certification provided by the American Board of Pathology (ABP) expires after ten years unless it is maintained. Maintenance of certification involves receiving a certain number of continuing medical education credits every year by participating in eligible events. Peer recommendations and an examination administered by the ABP are also required.

Career Information

Cardiac pathologists examine heart valves and vessels, cardiac tissue biopsies and entire hearts that have been removed from patients in order to make diagnoses. After making a diagnosis, they work with cardiologists and surgeons to determine the best course of treatment. Cardiac pathologists can also carry out research and teach residents and fellows.

Places of Employment

Cardiac pathologists work in the pathology departments of hospitals and medical centers. If a particular institution is a known leader in heart disease treatment, they may have a department dedicated specifically to cardiac pathology. Cardiac pathologists collaborate with physicians from other departments to devise and implement patient care. Jobs can be found at hospitals associated with medical education or research, or places that focus only on patient care.

Employment and Salary Statistics

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of employed physicians will grow faster than average from 2018 to 2028 (www.bls.gov). Pathologists, who are included in the BLS statistical group with physicians and surgeons, made a mean annual salary of $203,880 as of May 2018.

During their residency in anatomic pathology, aspiring cardiac pathologists can choose a sub-specialty such as autopsy or cytopathology, while at the same time participating in research studies coordinated by faculty. Specialty certification is available for licensed doctors in this field, which is available from the American Board of Medical Specialties; this certification must be maintained and will otherwise expire after ten years. These professionals typically work in a medical center or a hospital's pathology department, where they often collaborate with surgeons and cardiologists in either a patient care or research capacity.

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