Pros and Cons of Becoming a Cardiologist
Cardiologists are internal medicine physicians specializing in the heart and blood vessels. Learn more about some pros and cons you'll want to consider when making your career choice.
|Pros of Being a Cardiologist|
|Favorable employment growth (expected 18% growth from 2012-2022)*|
|High wages compared to other occupations (Median salary was $349,786 for non-invasive cardiologists)***|
|Good job prospects (Cardiologists could be in demand due to aging population at risk of heart disease)*|
|Ability to help people with diseases or illnesses*|
|Cons of Being a Cardiologist|
|Extensive education and training required (8 years of school plus up to 8 years for training)*|
|Long hours may be necessary*|
|Medical school acceptance is very competitive*|
|Educational debt can be very high**|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), ***Salary.com.
Job Duties and Description
Cardiologists diagnose, prevent or treat cardiovascular disorders. Some disorders may include valvular heart disease, pericarditis, hypertension, congenital heart disease, cardiac dysrhythmias, endocarditis and myocarditis.
Cardiologists use a variety of medical techniques to examine and treat patients. They may use non-invasive cardiology tools for diagnosis, like echocardiographs and nuclear tracers. Cardiologists also perform invasive treatments; they may insert stents, catheters or balloons into the body.
Career Outlook and Salary Info
The BLS reports that employment for all physicians and surgeons was projected to grow 18% from 2012-2022. Job opportunities are also expected to be favorable, since cardiologists will be needed to provide quality healthcare to the growing elderly population. Cardiologists may find good job prospects in underserved or rural areas.
According to Salary.com, non-invasive cardiology physicians made a median salary of about $349,786 as of September 2015. In that same time, invasive cardiology physicians earned a median of roughly $389,979 per year.
What Are the Requirements?
If you're interested in becoming a cardiologist, you have to earn an undergraduate degree that prepares you for medical school. While there is no set path for this level of education, you may want to complete a degree program that focuses on science, math and physics. Some schools also provide an accelerated medical program that shortens the time to get an undergrad and medical degree by 1-2 years.
After the undergraduate program, you must then apply to med school by sending in transcripts and passing the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Medical school admission is competitive, so taking part in extracurricular activities and having good character and leadership skills can help you stand out from other applicants.
Medical school takes four years to complete. Foundational subjects, such as biochemistry, anatomy and pathology, are usually taught in the first two years. The last two years are devoted to clinical rotations. Students work with patients under the supervision of licensed physicians.
Aspiring cardiologists typically complete residencies in internal medicine and fellowships specializing in cardiology. The time it takes to complete these training programs varies for each school; residencies and fellowships are often 3-4 years in length. All physicians must be licensed to work, according to the BLS. You would have to pass either the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam or the United States Medical Licensing Examination for licensure. Because the field changes with medical advances, you can expect to continue your education and study throughout your career.
If you're considering a career as a cardiologist, you need to be:
- Highly motivated
- Willing to work irregular and long hours
- Willing to keep up with education
- Interested in helping others
Job Postings from Real Employers
Employers of cardiologists require applicants to have the necessary educational background and a license. Some employers ask that you are eligible for board certification, if not already certified. You might also need several years of experience in the field. Here are some examples of job postings available in March and April 2012:
- A university medical program in Illinois was looking for a pediatric cardiologist who was board-certified or board-eligible. The applicant needed work experience in clinical care.
- A medical center in New Mexico was seeking a cardiologist who could perform non-invasive, invasive and interventional cardiology duties.
- A cardiology group in New Mexico needed a non-invasive cardiologist for a full-time position. Work experience was required for this job.
How to Stand Out
If you want to get an edge on the competition, becoming board-certified shows that you have extensive knowledge and experience in the field. In fact, some employers prefer applicants who are at least eligible for certification. As a cardiologist, you can pursue sub-specialty board certifications in internal medicine, interventional cardiology, cardiovascular disease and cardiac electrophysiology, among other areas.
You need to pass several exams and meet certain requirements in order to obtain certifications. Board credentials are valid for 10 years; participation in the American Board of Internal Medicine's certification maintenance program is required.
Alternative Career Paths
Are you interested in working with heart patients, but also want to perform surgeries? You might consider a career as a cardiothoracic surgeon, which offers similar employment prospects but higher pay. According to Salary.com, these surgeons earned a median salary of $400,000 as of April 2012. To become a cardiothoracic surgeon, you follow the same process as that for cardiologists, but your residency will be in general surgery. You can then pursue an additional residency in thoracic surgery.
Registered Nurse (RN)
If the time and expense involved in becoming a cardiologist doesn't appeal to you, you might consider working as a registered nurse. RNs perform diagnostic checkups on patients and administer drugs. They record and file patients' medical histories. RNs can specialize in a variety of different fields, including cardiovascular care. As an aspiring RN, you could pursue a diploma, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree. You'd then have to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) in order to be licensed.
The BLS says that registered nurses made a median salary of about $65,000 as of May 2011. The same source also states that employment for nurses was expected to grow 26% from 2010-2020.