Coronary heart diseases, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, and heart failure are the leading causes of death in the U.S., U.K. and other countries. According to a survey conducted by cdc.gov, more than 610,000 people die of cardiovascular diseases in the U.S. alone each year. Therefore, it has become critically important to prevent, diagnose and treat heart-related disorders. This makes cardiology one of the most dynamic and unique medical fields that deals with acute and chronic conditions with medical, surgical and management options.
From managing coronary heart diseases to cardiac amyloidosis, heart arrhythmia to cardiotoxicity, and cardiomyopathy to coronary vasospasm, cardiologists play an integral role in providing healthcare services that improve the quality of life. The challenging medical specialty offers a plethora of research opportunities and a wide range of sub-specialty areas to pursue.
Are you studying in one of the best Caribbean medical schools and thinking to pursue a career in cardiology? Sounds great!
Working in a challenging and dynamic field of cardiology can be rewarding and fascinating for medical school graduates. It provides you with the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives. But what does it take to become a cardiologist? What are the educational requirements, responsibilities, monetary benefits, and career prospects pertaining to this field?
Let’s dig into details.
Becoming a cardiologist is a long process that entails a lot of effort, motivation and hard work. Students have to incur years of laborious study and examinations to become a cardiologist and even longer to become a consultant or cardiac surgeon. After completing high school and four years of undergraduate studies, you need to complete a four-year MD program, three-year of residency training in internal medicine and at least three to four years of fellowship in cardiology.
Gain Some Hospital Shadowing Experience
Before making a career decision, it makes great sense to carefully determine whether cardiology is the right fit for you. Shadowing is a sensible approach to gaining some practical skills and allows you to spend a day in the life of a cardiologist. It is also one of the most important factors that many Caribbean medical schools consider while evaluating candidates.
You can learn about this competitive field by gaining some hospital shadowing experience. It provides aspiring cardiologists with a great opportunity to get better insights on this challenging field and what a cardiologist does.
During hospital shadowing experience, aspiring cardiologists will get an opportunity to observe how a cardiologist interacts with patients, performs physical exams and reads different laboratory tests. You will also be able to observe myriad cardiac procedures such as ECG, echocardiogram, coronary angiogram, exercise stress test, coronary computed tomography angiogram (CCTA), and more.
Keep in mind that the practical experience you gain during wards, OPDs, emergency rooms and operation theater will better prepare you for this challenging medical specialty that class lectures and theoretical knowledge can’t.
How to Decide on a Sub-specialty in Cardiology?
One of the greatest challenges that aspiring physicians face during their residency training is deciding on a sub-specialty. It is recommended to get a clear idea about each sub-specialty to make a well-informed decision. Cardiology is one of the most demanding and rapidly-developing medical fields that offer different sub-specialties to choose from.
From nuclear cardiology to interventional cardiology, echocardiology to electrophysiology, preventive cardiology to computed tomography, transplant cardiology to pediatric cardiology, there are a plethora of options available for medical school graduates to choose from. It is important to know the pros and cons of each sub-specialty prior to deciding.
To help future cardiologists make the right decision, here are some important details about each sub-specialty in cardiology.
Cardiothoracic surgery is one of the most challenging and rewarding medical fields that involves surgical treatment of chest (thorax), heart and lungs. Being a cardiothoracic surgeon, you will be responsible for diagnosing, treating and performing different kinds of surgery, including coronary artery bypass surgery, surgery for lung cancer, key-hole thoracic surgery, chest-wall deformities, heart valve surgery, aortic surgery and more.
To become an echocardiologist, you need specialized training and have an in-depth understanding of echocardiology. Being an echocardiologist, you are responsible for diagnosing and treating heart problems, detect blood clots and manage the overall condition of the heart.
Cardiac EP is a type of cardiologist who is responsible for treating rhythm problems of the heart and disorders related to blood vessels such as heart attack, valve disease and different types of arrhythmias.
This branch of cardiology deals with catheter-based treatments, such as angioplasty and stenting of structural heart disorders and congenital disorders. Interventional cardiologists are required to complete two years of additional education and training in order to diagnose and treat different cardiovascular diseases.
Nuclear cardiology is playing an indispensable role in diagnosing heart-related issues and circulatory system disorders. Nuclear cardiologists use different techniques such as myocardial perfusion imaging, radionuclide ventriculography and more to assess myocardial blood flow, ischemia, infarction and contractile functions of the heart.
Clinical cardiologists are responsible for diagnosing and managing different cardiovascular disorders. They diagnose heart conditions by analyzing cardiac tests and then prescribing medications to treat the problem. However, they don’t perform surgical procedures as cardiac surgeons do.
Adult Congenital Cardiologist
Being an adult congenital heart disease cardiologist (ACHD), you are responsible for treating adults over 18 years of age with congenital heart diseases. They receive special training to treat congenital heart diseases. These professionals monitor hearts to make sure that childhood surgeries are still effective and figure out if further treatment is needed.
Pediatric Congenital Cardiologist
In order to become a pediatric cardiologist, you are required to complete three years of pediatric residency and three years of fellowship training in pediatric cardiology. As a pediatric cardiologist, you are responsible for treating congenital heart diseases in infants and children such as valve problems, abnormal blood vessels, and a hole in the chamber. These professionals can also treat pulmonary hypertension, heart failure, perform heart transplant surgery, heart catheterization procedures and interventions.
Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiology
Under this specialty, internists and cardiologists gain substantial experience in treating and managing a wide range of cardiovascular disorders. These professionals focus on the treatment and management of patients with advanced or refractory heart failure and implement a myriad electrophysiologic and hemodynamic support devices.
Heart failure and transplant cardiologists can perform percutaneous and surgical procedures and can evaluate prospective patients for heart transplantation. If you are thinking to become a heart failure and transplant cardiologist, you need to complete additional one-year training after completion of fellowship in cardiovascular disease.
It is a subspecialty of cardiology that mainly focuses on minimizing patients’ risk for developing heart diseases and prevents further complications in patients who are already heart patients. Preventive cardiologists work closely with patients to provide counseling and prescribe different tests to monitor their heart functionality. They prescribe medications to lower the risks of heart attack, stroke, cholesterol disorders while helping them achieve heart-healthy lifestyles.
Cardiac imaging is a sub-specialty of diagnostic radiology that mainly focuses on coronary catheterization, echocardiogram, intravascular ultrasound, cardiac CT scan, cardiac MRI, PET scan and more. As a cardiac radiologist, you are responsible for performing and interpreting medical images to diagnose different cardiovascular disorders, heart valve defects and more.
By using different imaging techniques such as computed tomography and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), cardiac radiologists determine the actual cause of heart disorder and monitor the condition of heart to check whether the treatment is working. Cardiac imaging procedures include CTCA (CT coronary angiography), coronary artery calcium scoring and MRI heart (cardiac MRI).
Nature of Work
A consultant cardiologist usually spends a major part of his life in providing clinical care – inpatients and outpatients both – and laboratory work. Inpatients usually arrive at the emergency department or cardiac care unit. Cardiologists also perform on-call duties on weekends that can sometimes be challenging, but always gratifying.
They are also involved in other activities such as clinical research, primary care services, clinical management meetings, service improvement, teaching and assessing interns and residents and a lot of other support activities.
Cardiologists work closely with primary care physicians, specialist nurses, medical secretaries, administrative staff and other hospital specialties.
One of the greatest benefits of choosing a career in cardiology is the thriving earning potential. As a consultant cardiologist, your average base salary will be $512,000. Top cardiologists who are specialized in different fields can earn significantly more. The dynamic field of medicine offers a range of career opportunities, making cardiology a worthwhile career option for medical school graduates.
Believe it or not, a cardiologist is one of the most respected occupations in the healthcare field. It is a specialty that is making a huge difference in patients’ lives while improving the life expectancy.
If you are excited to pursue a career in cardiology, keep all the above-mentioned things in mind before taking the plunge. It might seem challenging to become a cardiologist, but it’s worth it.