Pros and Cons of Becoming an Endocrinologist
Endocrinologists diagnose and treat diseases or disorders caused by such organs as the thyroid, pancreas and adrenal glands. Read the following list of pros and cons to find out if an endocrinology career is the right fit for you.
|Job growth is excellent (projected 18% growth from 2012-2022)*|
|High paying job ($208,334 median annual salary)**|
|Fewer work hours when compared to other specialty residencies***|
|Job duties can be personally rewarding****|
|Over nine years of education required****|
|Medical school admissions processes are highly competitive*|
|Medical school is expensive (average debt of 2010 medical school graduates was around $158,000)***|
|Median pay is lower than that of other specialty physicians**|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com, ***American Medical Association, ****American College of Physicians.
Essential Career Information
Endocrinologists are internal medicine doctors who specialize in the study of hormones produced by the pituitary glands, pancreas, thyroid and other internal organs. Some conditions treated by endocrinologists include diabetes, thyroid disease, obesity, infertility, osteoporosis and metabolic disorders.
These health care professionals usually meet with patients who were referred to them by other doctors, such as primary care physicians or general internists. If you pursue this career path, typical job duties can include helping diabetic patients control their blood sugar, prescribing hormone replacement therapies for women undergoing menopause or creating diet and exercise regimens for patients with lipid disorders. Endocrinologists also use a variety of diagnostic procedures, such as fine-needle biopsies, blood glucose monitoring and bone density tests.
If you decide to go into endocrinology, you'll have several career options. Clinical endocrinologists typically see patients in hospitals or in private practices they've set up on their own or with colleagues. If you work in a teaching hospital, you might also instruct medical students. Another consideration is medical research, which can be conducted for pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions or public research institutes. Physicians with an interest in business and management could become administrators of medical facilities or schools.
If you can't decide on just one of these career options, don't fret. Any of these can be done in tandem. For example, an endocrinologist might conduct research and teach students in addition to caring for patients.
Salary Information and Job Prospects
According to August 2015 figures on Salary.com, the median annual salary for endocrinologists was $208,334, which sounds pretty good until you compare it to the salaries of other specialists. For example, the median annual salary for gastroenterologists was around $340,585, while invasive cardiologists earned about $387,508.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected an 18% increase in employment opportunities for physicians and surgeons between 2012 and 2022. Endocrinologists could be especially busy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected that the number of patients with diabetes could increase 165% between 2000 and 2050. Additionally, thyroid cancer is one of the fastest-growing cancers among women in terms of new cases diagnosed annually, according to a 2012 article in The New York Times.
What Are the Requirements?
To become an endocrinologist, you'll need to earn a bachelor's degree that includes substantial coursework in biology, physics and chemistry. You'll also need to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and apply to a Doctor of Medicine (MD) program at an accredited medical school. The admissions processes for these programs are competitive, so you'll likely need good grades and a high MCAT score to get in. In 2011, the grade point average of those admitted to U.S. News & World Report's top 30 medical schools for internal medicine was at least 3.62. You'll also need an MCAT score of 30 out of a possible 45 to get into many programs, according to The Princeton Review.
After completing four years of medical school and getting your MD, you'll enter a required 3-year internal medicine residency program, during which you'll see patients under the direct supervision of an experienced doctor. This is followed by a 2-year fellowship to get training in the subspecialty of endocrinology. As you can imagine, all of this training is expensive. According to the American Medical Association, 78% of 2010 medical school graduates owed at least $100,000 for their education.
Licensing and Certification
To become licensed through their state boards of medicine, endocrinologists must pass the 3-step United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). The first two steps can be completed while earning your MD. The final step is usually taken during students' residencies.
While not legally required to practice medicine, many employers seek applicants who also hold endocrinology certification from the American Board of Internal Medicine. To earn this credential, you'll first need to complete the requirements for certification in internal medicine. These include a 36-month residency and a competency evaluation completed by your program director. You'll also need to pass a written exam. After you've completed your fellowship, a similar process is required for endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism certifications.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Most employers are looking for licensed endocrinologists who are board certified or board eligible. Clinical research and teaching experience might also be a plus. Here are a few March 2012 job board listings for endocrinologists:
- A California university's school of medicine was seeking two full-time professors of endocrinology who were board certified and eligible for licensure in California. Applicants needed an MD or MD/Ph.D. Preference was to be given to applicants with an interest in diabetes.
- A diabetes center in West Palm Beach, FL, was looking for an endocrinologist eligible for board certification to join its faculty. Applicants with an interest in teaching medical school residents, in addition to providing patient care, were sought.
- A veterans' health care center in Chicago, IL, was seeking an endocrinologist to conduct clinical research and provide patient care. Some teaching responsibilities also were included. To be eligible, the applicant needed to be a U.S. citizen and licensed physician.
How to Stand Out in the Field
As mentioned above, the job outlook for endocrinologists is excellent, but how can you stand out among your peers? One way is to join a professional association, such as the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, the American Diabetes Association or the Endocrine Society. Doing so can help you stay aware of the latest endocrinology research and provide you with an avenue for networking.
Alternative Career Paths
If you're interested in this field, but don't like the idea of incurring as much educational debt, you might consider becoming a nurse practitioner who specializes in endocrinology. These health care professionals can complete coursework or clinical rotations in endocrinology as part of their master's degree programs. Continuing education courses in endocrinology are also available.
However, as a nurse practitioner, you won't enjoy the large salary that an endocrinologist earns. While salary statistics specific to nurse practitioners specializing in endocrinology aren't available, the average base salary for women's health nurse practitioners was just under $84,000, according to a 2011 compensation survey conducted by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. Pediatric nurse practitioners earned average salaries of around $88,000, which amounted to less than half an endocrinologist's earnings.
If you like the idea of becoming a physician, but would rather provide primary care to your patients, general internal medicine could be more to your liking. You might make a little less money than you would as an endocrinologist, but you could enter the job field after completing your residency. The average salary for general internists as of May 2010 was around $190,000, according to the BLS.