Cardiology Career Path

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Cardiology Career Path

If you’re looking for a career in which you can help people and make a real difference in their lives, cardiology might be the perfect choice for you. As a cardiologist, you would be responsible for diagnosing and treating heart conditions, both common and rare. This is a highly specialized field that requires years of training and experience, but it can also be very rewarding.

If you’re interested in becoming a cardiologist, here’s what you need to know about the career path involved.

1. What Is Cardiology?

Cardiology is a branch of medicine that deals with heart and blood vessel disorders. As a cardiologist, you would be responsible for diagnosing these conditions when they are present, identifying their underlying causes, providing all necessary treatments and follow-up care, and carefully monitoring the health of your patients. You could work in a hospital or clinic setting, or you might be employed by a health insurance company or the government to provide coverage for heart and blood vessel disorders.

Cardiologists can also specialize in particular fields of cardiology, such as electrophysiology (EP), which deals with the electrical function of your heart; echocardiography (echo), which is a diagnostic procedure involving sound waves to help visualize your internal organs; cardiac catheterization; vascular medicine (examining the health of your blood vessels); or nuclear cardiology (a diagnostic procedure involving radioactive materials to visualize your heart).

2. What Is Required to Become a Cardiologist?

To become a cardiologist, you typically need at least 12 years of postsecondary education and training. This would include four years of college followed by four years of medical school and a three-year residency program in internal medicine plus one or two years of residency in cardiology. In order to be accepted to medical school, you would need to major in a science-related field such as biology or chemistry and do well enough on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) that your score is high enough for acceptance into the program of your choice.

You should also consider additional training or certification as a subspecialist in one of the following: cardiac electrophysiology, echocardiography, nuclear cardiology, vascular medicine, or another area of specialization.

3. The Average Salary for Cardiologists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics ( BLS ) reports that the mean annual wage for general and family practitioners were $186,200 as of May 2015. The mean annual wage for all physicians, regardless of sub-specialty, was $204,000, with cardiologists earning the highest average salary at $317,100.

The highest paying states for general and family practitioners, according to the BLS, were Alaska ($292,280), New Hampshire ($288,610), and Massachusetts ($283,670). The best-paying metropolitan area in the country was Buffalo-Niagara Falls in New York, where pediatricians earned $244,720.

4. What Does a Cardiologist Do?

As a cardiologist, you would typically perform diagnostic tests to help diagnose heart and blood vessel disorders. This would include taking a patient history and performing a physical exam, ordering laboratory tests and imaging studies such as echocardiography, electrocardiograms (EKG), cardiac catheterization, and/or coronary angiography. You might also provide treatment for your patients in the form of medications or surgery or recommend lifestyle changes such as dietary changes and exercise.

Cardiologists can specialize in a certain area of cardiology, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or electrophysiology. In these specialties, you could treat your patients with medications, surgery, or medical devices such as pacemakers. You might also provide genetic counseling to patients for inherited disorders that affect the heart and blood vessels and consult with other physicians and patients about issues such as organ donation.

5. What Is it Like to Be a Cardiologist?

A 2011 study published in the journal Circulation looked at the job satisfaction of over 5,000 physicians from 12 medical specialties, including cardiology. According to this survey, cardiologists were among the top three most satisfied with their career choice overall, along with dermatologists and plastic surgeons. Cardiologists were the third most satisfied with their work/life balance (71 percent very or extremely satisfied) out of all physicians surveyed. They were also among the top five specialties in terms of being well prepared for their work prior to starting medical school, having a good relationship with their patients, and being respected by the people they work with. Cardiologists were the third most likely to have spouses or partners that are physicians or physician assistants.

6. What Are the Long-Term Career Prospects for Cardiologists?

According to BLS, the employment of physicians is expected to grow by 14 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The main factor in this demand will be an aging population and longer life expectancy resulting in more people living with heart and blood vessel diseases like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, or heart failure.

You can also expect that an aging population will lead to greater demand for subspecialties, including cardiac electrophysiology, echocardiography, and vascular medicine. With proper training and certification, you could specialize in one of these sub-specialties as well.

7. How Do You Become a Cardiologist?

You would need to complete an undergraduate degree, four years of medical school, and three to eight years of residency training. Most people spend five or six years in medical school earning either an M.D. or D.O. degree, then take the USMLE (the United States Medical Licensing Examination) tests to become licensed. After this, you would need to complete a three-year residency in internal medicine followed by two or more years of additional training in cardiology through a residency program certified by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

8. What Are the Skills Needed to Become a Cardiologist?

BLS says that cardiologists typically need skills in analysis, critical thinking, and problem-solving, as well as excellent verbal and written communication since you will often report test results to your patients. You would also need good manual dexterity for recording a person’s heartbeat or drawing blood from a patient in order to perform tests.

You would need good interpersonal, communication, and teamwork skills when you interact with your fellow health care professionals since cardiologists often work in teams. You also need the ability to work under stressful conditions when treating patients in emergency situations.

9. What Does it Cost to Become a Cardiologist?

An article in The Washington Post states that tuition to attend medical school can range from free (if you are accepted at a public institution in your state) to over $40,000 per year for private schools. According to BLS, the average salary of physicians was about $176,410 in 2012. This includes salaries ranging from the low end of around $165,800 to the high end of more than $313,000.

10. What Are the Different Types of Cardiologists?

There are many sub-specialties in cardiology, including pediatric cardiology, electrophysiology (the study of electrical functions of the heart), vascular medicine (also called vascular surgery or interventional radiology), cardiac imaging (including echocardiography, cardiac catheterization, and cardiac electrophysiology), heart failure, heart transplantation, and mechanical circulatory support. There are a total of 14 subspecialty certifications recognized by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) and the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).

11. What Is the Work Environment Like for Cardiologists?

Cardiologists often work in hospitals or medical offices, although they may also work in clinics, research centers, and rehabilitation facilities. They typically work full time but may need to be on call after hours if emergencies arise with their patients.

According to CareerCast, the work environment for a cardiologist can be extremely stressful at times because you must make life-or-death decisions about your patients. However, it also rates this as one of the best jobs because of its high salary and excellent work-life balance.

While most day-to-day duties depend on whether you are working in the office or performing tests on patients, you would typically talk to your patients about their symptoms and medical history, examine them and request certain tests of diagnostics imaging. You might also review test results with other health care professionals who have diagnosed the patient’s condition before making a definitive diagnosis.

12. What Are the Pros and Cons of Becoming a Cardiologist?

Some of the pros of becoming a cardiologist include:

  • Being able to provide relief to your patients who are suffering from the effects of heart disease or chronic conditions
  • Being an independent contributor rather than working as part of a team or under the supervision of another specialist
  • Increasing demand for jobs in this field, with high salary potential (especially for subspecialties)

Some of the cons of becoming a cardiologist include:

  • Long, sometimes unpredictable hours (depending on what type of practice you choose)
  • Being responsible for your own equipment, research, and supplies
  • High-pressure work environment (especially during emergencies) with potentially life-or-death decisions to be made more than once in some cases
  • Long training process and possible lower income compared to other medical professions during residency and internship

According to a news release from UCLA, “cardiologists will be kept busy at work studying how genes affect cardiovascular disease, developing new treatments for the most common forms of heart disease and learning how to prevent heart disease before it starts.”

The following are some of the latest developments and future trends in cardiology:

The use of gene therapy, stem cell therapy, and tissue engineering to replace cardiac tissue damaged because of cardiovascular disease or birth defects (UCLA news release)

The use of nanotechnology and nanoparticles to diagnose diseases and deliver drugs to specific cells in the body (UCLA news release)

The creation of therapies that will regenerate heart tissue and reverse cardiovascular disease (UCLA news release)

A focus on lifestyle changes, such as improved diet and exercise, to prevent cardiovascular disease rather than just treating it after it occurs (UCLA news release)

14. Best Colleges to Study Cardiology

The following are the best colleges in the U.S. for studying cardiology:

  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)
  • Harvard Medical School (Boston, Massachusetts)
  • University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
  • Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut)
  • Columbia University 


The field of cardiology is a highly demanding and specialized area of medicine. It requires years of rigorous training, and those who choose to pursue a career in cardiology can expect to be rewarded with a high salary and many job opportunities. Although the path to becoming a cardiologist is challenging, it can be an immensely rewarding career choice.

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