How it’s like to become a Cardiologist and what does it take for a person to become one?

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Congratulations! You did it!

You aced the basic sciences program and its time for you to decide your specialization. Yes, it’s specialization time and this determines what kind of doctor you want to be, and what you will become.

When it comes to specialization, some specialize in orthopedics, some specialize in obstetrics, some in internal medicine, some in ophthalmology, some in gastroenterology, some in cardiology and the like. Speaking of cardiology, have students ever considered it? How about you? Have you considered specializing in cardiology?

You probably are asking what is a cardiologist? And what do they do? Here, we will read about the cardiologist, their education, training, and experience in some detail. We also hope that you will be inspired to become a cardiologist upon your graduation from a Caribbean medical school.

Cardiologists – who are they?

A cardiologist is a physician equipped with specialized knowledge and training in treating the heart and other parts of the human circulatory system (blood vessels are also included). Cardiologists often work directly with patients as well as with other physicians and surgeons in a consulting role in treating conditions related to the heart.

Cardiologists also prepare patients for major procedures that could affect the human heart.

What kind of education & training do cardiologists receive?

Cardiologists must attain the same kind of training as other physicians i.e. four years in medical school leading to graduation and afterward three years of residency in general internal medicine. Additionally, cardiologists need to complete approximately three to five years of specialized training in cardiology (which is often done through a fellowship).

The heart is a vital organ of the human body. Hence, cardiologists should be well trained before they can work on patients on their own.

What kind of certifications need to be earned for a medical graduate to be a cardiologist?

All graduating physicians must be licensed via their state licensing boards so they can start practicing medicine. This is usually accomplished by participating in and passing the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE).

Once the physician is certified in general internal medicine through passing the USMLE, they can then take additional licensure examinations which can help them become certified in specialty areas of medicine, in particular cardiology and cardiovascular disease.

Cardiologists can also earn the professional designation of ‘Fellow of the American College of Cardiology’ (FACC) through an election process held by the American College of Cardiology (ACC). This is based on the physician’s academic achievements, peer reviews, contributions to cardiology and the physician demonstrating dedication and commitment to upholding the ideals of the ACC.

Earning the designation of FACC is a highly esteemed honor in the field of cardiology in the United States. This also designates a physician’s ability to perform well in this field.

The subspecialties of Cardiology

Upon completing and graduating from medical school as well as completing a residency of 3 years in internal medicine, most aspiring cardiologists get an option to complete a fellowship in general cardiology. As an alternative, they can also specialize in a specific area of cardiology itself.

Cardiologists can specialize in any of the areas mentioned below:

1.                 Pediatric Cardiology

Pediatric Cardiology has a core focus on diagnosing and treating heart conditions in society’s younger generation. Patients of pediatric cardiologists range between 3 to 21 years of age, meaning they treat infants, toddlers, children, adolescents, teenagers, and young adults.

Those who aspire to specialize in pediatric cardiology should not only be comfortable working with small children but also must properly explain the conditions of children to concerned family members.

2.                 Cardiac Electrophysiology

Cardiac electrophysiology focuses on the heart’s electrical activities and systems. Cardiologists specializing in this subspecialty often treat conditions like flutters, heart arrhythmias and palpitations through the usage of electrical pulses in normalizing a patient’s heartbeat pattern on a normal footing.

3.                 Non-invasive Cardiology

Non-invasive cardiology focuses solely on using non-invasive tests and methods, as well as those tests that can diagnose heart conditions without the need for surgery. Cardiologists specializing in non-invasive cardiology learn to carry out, read and translate echocardiograms and stress tests.

4.                 Invasive Cardiology

In invasive cardiology, cardiologists train for all kinds of standard cardiac care. They also learn to perform other procedures such as cardiac catheterization, which evaluates the proper functioning of the human heart’s valves and also prevents potential blockage of arteries.

If an invasive cardiologist identifies such issues, they may refer the patient to an interventional cardiologist or a cardiothoracic surgeon for treatment.

5.                 Interventional Cardiology

Interventional cardiology focuses on treating conditions of the heart through minimally invasive procedures, like angioplasty or a stent. Cardiologists specializing in this work to determine and fix heart issues and problems as early as they can to prevent more serious, invasive procedures and among them is open-heart surgery.

6.                 Vascular Cardiology

Cardiologists opting to specialize in this subspecialty train to become surgeons operating on veins and arteries. Their special focus is on that is close to the brain and heart. Vascular surgeons treat both minor and major conditions, like varicose veins and clogged arteries needing either a stent or surgery.

7.                 Cardiothoracic Surgery

Cardiologists who have selected this sub-specialty train to become open-heart surgeons. They can perform procedures of a coronary bypass, valve replacements, and complete heart transplants.

What medical work does a cardiologist perform?

Cardiologists care for patients suffering from heart ailments, coronary heart diseases or those having heart-related issues. Most of the procedures they perform are just the same as that of other patients i.e. checking a patient’s height, weight, blood pressure, past medical records, medical history and the like.

But not all of their tests are the same. Cardiologists can also use additional tests that are designed to check the heart function specifically. Once a diagnosis is made, they will recommend to patients a treatment course including changes in lifestyle, medicines on prescription, additional required testing and in some cases, surgery.

When do cardiologists perform open-heart surgery?

Open heart surgery is often reserved for physicians who specialize in cardiothoracic surgery. However, cardiologists can still perform other least invasive surgical procedures, like installing a pacemaker or a cardiac catheter.

Do cardiologists treat all age groups?

Cardiologists do not necessarily treat all age groups because the adult heart is different from the child’s heart. Cardiologists usually select working with one age group, or another, while they are still in training.

Pediatric cardiologists, for instance, learn about heart ailments and diseases that are specific to children. They hence know how to care for children and their unique needs. Adult cardiologists are usually referred to as ‘cardiologists’ and they often treat adult patients instead of children.

What tests do cardiologists perform?

Based on their specialty, cardiologists can use an array of procedures and tests to diagnose an ailment or condition of the heart. Some are less invasive and less accurate while some are invasive, accurate and costly.

A cardiologist often carries out a test based on the patient’s symptoms, current health, and previous medical history. The following are some of the common tests cardiologists often perform:

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

Here, a patient’s body has several electrodes connected which check the heart’s electrical activity.

Stress test

Here, a patient’s heart is monitored at rest and then under stress-based conditions to check the heart’s performance. It can be physical or nuclear (i.e. they either walk on a treadmill to induce stress or are given a chemical via injection to induce stress).

Angioplasty

Here, cardiologists insert a thin tube with a small balloon on the end through the arteries to the area with an identified blockage. The cardiologist then inflates the balloon, pushing the blockage against the artery’s outer walls and open it up for increased blood flow.

Stent

It is placed in conjunction with either angioplasty or a catheterization. Using a catheter, the cardiologist will place a thin mesh coil inside a blocked artery to keep it open which improves the flow of blood.

Cardiac catheterization

Here, a long and thin tube is inserted in either a vein or an artery and is then stitched to a patient’s heart. Through the catheter, the cardiologist can perform diagnostic tests in evaluating heart function or combine this test with other treatments (angioplasties and stents) to treat the affected area immediately.

Over to you – do you want to be a cardiologist?

The United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics believes that the demand for cardiologists may grow at around 15% in the next few years, and this is faster than the average career field. Demand for them is rising in the United States for an aging segment of the population, higher incidence of heart ailments and other cardiac issues.

Medical graduates hoping to enter cardiology can expect a top-class career with lucrative pay. Non-invasive cardiologists are known to earn $390,000 annually while invasive cardiologists can earn $425,000 annually. Though salaries for physicians differ based on location, specialization and the kind of practice they do, salaries for cardiologists are often higher.

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