How to Become a Cardiologist: Education & Residency

Aug 21, 2019

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.

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While you may be drawn to a career as a cardiologist because of the impressive annual salary, there are many other important factors to consider. It's important to understand the extensive educational requirements--including med school, residency and a fellowship--as well as the high-pressure nature of the job. Continue reading to learn more.

How to Become a Cardiologist

Cardiologists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating disorders of the heart. In total, following high school, it generally takes 10-17 years to become a cardiologist. These years of study include obtaining a bachelor's degree, attending medical school to earn a medical degree, and completing a residency and fellowship in cardiology. To work as a cardiologist, state licensure is required, and board certification is desired by nearly all employers.

The following sections describe the educational and residency requirements of a cardiologist education.

Earn Undergraduate and Medical School Degrees

As with other medical doctors, prospective cardiologists begin their educational path by completing prerequisite premedical undergraduate courses. Most students earn a bachelor's degree in a science-related field, though it is possible to gain admission to medical school by taking prerequisite courses but not earning a degree. Because medical school admission is very competitive, it is important to maintain a high GPA and build a strong resume during the undergraduate years. Potential medical school candidates must also take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

The next step toward becoming a cardiologist is completing medical school 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 internships, gaining real-life experience diagnosing illnesses and treating patients in medical settings.

Complete Cardiology Residency

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.

Cardiology Career Facts

Required Education Medical school (4 years),
Internal medicine residency (3 years),
Cardiology fellowship (2-5 years)
Licensure & Certification State licensure required,
Board certification desired by most employers
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026) 13% for all types of physicians and surgeons*
Mean Annual Salary (2019) $384,209 for non-invasive cardiologists**

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

Cardiologist Job Description

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.

Licensing and Certification 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) earned an average annual salary of $384,209 as of July 2019. Further sub-specialization to become invasive (interventional) cardiologists increases salary potential even more. According to Salary.com, invasive cardiologists made an average annual salary of $418,069 as of July 2019.

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