What is a Cardiologist?
A cardiologist is a physician who specializes in finding, treating, and preventing diseases that affect the heart, the arteries, and the veins.
They research, diagnose and treat conditions such as blockages, heart injuries, and diseases, and keep their eye on other factors such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
When a patient is referred to a cardiologist from their family doctor, they will be looked at for any risk factors that could possibly be damaging the heart, such as obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, poor eating habits, or a family history of heart disease.
What does a Cardiologist do?
A patient is typically referred to a cardiologist because a potential issue was detected by their primary physician. The cardiologist will sit with the new patient and go over their medical history, check their current physical condition, listen to their heart for any irregularities, and talk about any relevant symptoms. They will also perform a series of tests for a more precise diagnosis, like EKG's, x-rays, stress tests, biopsies, and blood tests.
After the test results come back, the cardiologist can then diagnose any abnormalities, congenital heart defects, or heart and coronary artery conditions that they find. Many of these conditions are then treated with medication, diet, and/or specific procedures.
There are several types of cardiologists, each specializing in a different area of heart treatment (note that some cardiologists may do a combination of things listed below):
Non-invasive Cardiologists - will examine patients, do cardiology consultations, order and interpret tests (stress tests or electrocardiograms). They will decide the best way to treat patients, either with medication, lifestyle changes or a combination of both. They also refer patients to a cardiac surgeon if necessary.
Interventional Cardiologists - treat patients who are dealing with coronary artery disease, heart valve disease, and peripheral vascular disease. They do angioplasty and stent placements, embolic protection, atherectomy procedures, and mitral valve repairs.
Non-interventional Cardiologists - will perform same tests and exams as a non-invasive cardiologist, but can also perform minor operations, such as a cardiac catheterization (a procedure that locates blocked arteries). If a blockage is found, the patient will be referred to an interventional cardiologist.
Electrophysiology Cardiologists - or heart-rhythm specialists, will place pacemakers, defibrillators, and cardiac resynchronization devices under the skin for sensing, pacing and shock delivery. They will also do ablation procedures to treat heart rhythm disorders, as well as administer necessary medication.
It is good to note that there are other doctors who specialize in heart issues, such as cardio-thoracic surgeons, but who are not considered cardiologists.
Cardio-thoracic surgeons operate on patients referred to them by cardiologists, and have completed a surgical residency program, not an internal medicine residency like a cardiologist. They perform complex surgeries, such as heart bypasses and transplants.
What is the workplace of a Cardiologist like?
Most cardiologists have an office outside of the hospital, but are connected contractually to a hospital nearby.
Other cardiologists have an office inside of a hospital. Hours of work frequently exceed 60 hours a week in a busier practice, and many cardiologists are often on call.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are Cardiologists like?
While we have no data to identify ‘what cardiologists are like,’ the demands faced by these practitioners provide a clue.
Their work – to review medical histories, examine patients, recommend diagnostic testing, scrutinize test results, and prescribe appropriate medication – would suggest that they are predominantly investigative.
How long does it take to become a Cardiologist?
To commit to a career in cardiology is to embark on a long, challenging, and fulfilling journey, one that demands academic excellence; physical and emotional stamina; and lifelong dedication to an always evolving profession.
The post-secondary educational track for cardiologists is between fourteen and sixteen years long:
- Bachelors’ Degree – four years
- Medical School – four years
- Internal Medicine Residency – three years
- Cardiology Fellowship – three years
- Cardiology Subspecialty Fellowship (optional) – one to two years
Should I become a Cardiologist?
To become a cardiologist is not an easy task. Getting through medical school, completing a residency, and getting accepted into a competitive fellowship program all demand academic aptitude.
And unquestionably, cardiologists need outstanding communication, concentration, and interpretive skills; excellent attention to detail; and an ability to think quickly and innovatively. Overcoming these educational challenges and developing these capacities may make you a very competent clinician.
To be an exceptional one, though, you need to cultivate some seemingly simple, yet fundamental, talents:
This is perhaps the most important trait of an effective clinician. While confidence is generally viewed as a positive trait, overconfidence – especially in medical circles – can, quite literally, be deadly. The ideal clinician realizes that unfamiliar situations may reveal knowledge gaps that necessitate collaboration and asking for help. Ignoring this fact is going to result in harm to patients.
So, when faced with a challenging case, the best cardiologists make a diagnosis, initiate a treatment plan, and consult with a specialist.
Care about your patients
‘Well, of course,’ may be the response to reading this declaration. But it stands as a crucial reminder that for all of its science and all of its technology, cardiology, like all branches of medicine, is about healing – and caring for – patients.
If you enter the field for a stable job and a considerable income, without genuine compassion and empathy for the people you will treat, it will be obvious. And it will be a detriment – to your patients and to yourself.
Don’t do too much
As a cardiologist in training, you will likely be excited to gain as much knowledge as you can. Over time, you may pursue multiple board certifications. While ambition is admirable, it can also prove harmful.
Many practising cardiologists would tell you that it is wiser to choose and focus on one or two areas. Clinicians are only human and can only do so much. A jack of all trades and master of none is not the recommended approach to a career in cardiology.
Take your time and teach your patients
It is amazing how many doctors still just tell their patients to ‘take this medication’ or ‘get this test done’ without explaining why. Patients appreciate a clinician who can explain things at a level they can understand.
At every level – doctor, nurse, paramedic, etc. – the practice of medicine is a challenge. It is constantly evolving and advancing. It demands constant, lifelong learning.
Unless you are prepared to commit to continuing medical education and take periodic board review and other courses, your academic knowledge will start to leak away and you will become the clinician who is just getting by, instead of the one who is on top of the latest guidelines and treatments.
Cardiologists are also known as:
Heart Specialist Heart Physician Heart Doctor