The Pros and Cons of a Career as a Cardiology Scientist
Cardiology scientists conduct heart research and make determinations on how medical advances can improve heart disease treatment. Find out here about the pros and cons of becoming a cardiology scientist:
|PROS of a Career as a Cardiology Scientist|
|Positive job prospects (13% from 2012-2022)*|
|Pay is above average ($90,000 approximate average per year as of May 2014)*|
|Opportunities to discover new treatments for heart disease**|
|You can help others through progress in cardiovascular research*|
|CONS of a Career as a Cardiology Scientist|
|The educational requirements are extensive (6-8 years beyond undergrad)*|
|Hours can exceed the typical 40-hour work week**|
|You must be a licensed medical doctor if you work with patients, as in clinical trials*|
|Working with medical tissues and samples can be unsafe*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Heart Association.
Job Description and Duties
The job of a cardiology scientist is to perform research on the heart and see how medical advances can improve the treatment of heart disease. Cardiology scientists discover new methods of treatment - such as pharmaceuticals or devices - to manage cardiovascular disease and congenital defects; they may also work on methods for preventing heart disease. As part of your work, you might observe samples, analyze and report your findings, develop medications and instruments used for treating the heart and write research grants for funding.
Medical scientists generally work for private corporations, government study teams or research universities. You often have little supervision and could be responsible for managing undergrad research assistants, research teams or medical technicians, depending on the environment in which you work. In some settings, you might study the effects of treatments on heart disease in real people, through clinical trials. In this case, patients agree to be observed by medical scientists while receiving medical treatment to find out how specific drugs or devices affect them.
Job Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), career opportunities for medical scientists were expected to increase 13% from 2012-2022, which is about average when compared with all other occupations. An aging population and needs for medical research in this area should maintain the demand for cardiology scientists. In 2012, the BLS reported that research and development organizations possessed 34% of the market in medical research. In May 2014, medical scientists, including cardiology scientists, earned an average salary of approximately $90,000 per year.
According to the most recent data available from the American Heart Association, the amount of education you have can influence your ability to get the best research jobs. Those who complete at least six years of postdoctoral training could expect the best professional prospects.
Education and Licensing
The formal education requirements to becoming a cardiology scientist can take from 10-12 years. Before beginning your undergraduate education, you should have your professional path clearly marked out, so you can take the straightest line possible toward your career goals.
Having a bachelor's degree in biological sciences, chemistry or physics is an important start. Then, you generally need a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Cardiovascular Science. This could take six years to complete, while you study renal and respiratory physiology, the vascular system, cardiovascular diseases and angiogenesis. If you want to perform research on real people, such as in clinical studies, you should consider a joint Ph.D. and Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree program. A Ph.D.-M.D. program can take 7-8 years to finish.
After you complete your formal education, you might continue postdoctoral training, which could help you earn better research opportunities. A cardiology postdoctoral fellowship can take 3-6 years or more; study areas might include cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cardiac mechanics and ventricular remodeling.
If you work directly with patients during your research - by administering drugs, removing tissue or drawing blood - you must be a licensed physician. To become licensed in your state, you generally need to complete an M.D. program from an accredited school and pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.
What Are Some Required Skills?
Cardiology scientists must have talents for investigating and observing, thinking critically and evaluating research data. You should enjoy being a student, because much of your early career is spent in education and training. Other considerations for this career include:
- Good communication skills, to explain and defend your research
- Writing capabilities for building research grants
- A passion for cardiology, since you must work intimately with one subject for your entire profession
Jobs Posted by Real Employers
Though the standard degree requirement is a Ph.D., many employers found in an April 2012 search of job postings were looking for applicants who have earned an M.D. Organizations want employees who have outstanding interpersonal and communication skills, as well as the capacity to teach. Faculty research positions usually require that you be accomplished in research in the field of cardiology. The following job excerpts were found in April 2012 postings:
- A university medical center in New York is searching for a faculty member to manage an independent research program in cardiovascular regenerative medicine. The applicant should have performed extensive research in stem cells and regenerative medicine. If hired, you must work to translate how stem cell research can be connected for use in cardiovascular disease.
- A government agency in Maryland is looking to hire a clinical scientist for its adult and pediatric cardiac research program, which provides leadership to cardiovascular research nationally. The ideal applicant has an M.D., is board certified in cardiovascular or internal medicine and has experience directing clinical research. Management, interpersonal and communication skills are important.
- A pharmaceutical company is seeking a field liaison to present therapeutic products to healthcare providers in the Northwest. The person hired would teach continuing education programs, speak at events and participate in formulary committees. You should have experience in cardiology, thrombosis or metabolic disorders, an M.D. or Ph.D. in a healthcare science area and 1-2 years of experience as a medical liaison.
- A faculty position at a major research university in Massachusetts is available in cardiovascular pharmacology; you would be teaching the subject to medical students. Candidates should be interested in researching cardiac and vascular biology, inflammation or metabolic issues.
Standing Out from the Crowd
If you want to participate in cardiovascular research, your research training should be in a relatively undiscovered or cutting-edge area, in order to have the most opportunities. Also, having done extensive research in a specific area of cardiology should help you, particularly for faculty positions because these employers often look for applicants with research accomplishments. Additionally, even though you may not be working directly with patients, some employers want you to have an M.D. and clinical experience. The BLS also reports that having both a Ph.D. and a medical degree can be helpful.
Other Careers to Consider
Physician or Surgeon in Cardiology
If you like the idea of getting your M.D., but would prefer to work directly in the treatment of patients with cardiovascular disease, you might want to become a physician or surgeon in cardiology. Cardiologists earn an M.D. and complete up to eight years of a cardiology residency; after which you'll need to acquire your license. You can also become board certified in cardiology after completing your residency and taking an additional exam. According to the BLS, career opportunities for physicians and surgeons were anticipated to increase 24% from 2010-2020, and needs should remain high for this specialty. In May 2011, the average annual salary was about $185,000 for subspecialty physicians and surgeons, such as cardiologists.
Biological technicians are also part of the research process, but only need to have a bachelor's degree in a scientific field to pursue this career. Rather than overseeing a research study, you can work as part of a team to conduct research and report results to a research scientist. The job outlook for biological technicians was expected to be average, with 14% growth from 2010-2020, according to the BLS. These workers received a mean salary of around $42,000 per year, according to May 2011 BLS data.
You could teach patients and the public about heart health and wellness, if you specialize in cardiovascular health education. You need a bachelor's degree in health education, and the Certified Health Education Specialist credential might be helpful. Health educators often work in public health, nonprofit agencies, private industry, hospitals and other healthcare facilities. In May 2011, the BLS indicated that health educators earned an average salary of just over $52,000 a year; job opportunities were projected to increase much faster than average, at 37% from 2010-2020.