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What is an Endocrinology Degree?
Endocrinology is a subspecialty of internal medicine that focuses on the organs of the endocrine system – the network of glands in the human body that make the hormones that help cells communicate with one another. Endocrinologists are concerned with hormone deficiency and excess and how these conditions affect metabolism, growth, weight, sleep, digestion, mood, reproduction, sensory perception, menstruation, lactation, and organ function.
Endocrinology programs, therefore, teach doctors in training about the many glands that make up the endocrine system, specifically:
• Adrenal glands – two glands located atop the kidneys that secrete cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, and aldosterone, which regulates blood pressure and sodium levels
• Hypothalamus – a part of the lower middle brain that tells the pituitary gland when to release hormones
• Ovaries – the female reproductive organs that produce the female sex hormones
• Pancreas – an organ in the abdomen that makes digestive enzymes that break down food and also makes the hormones insulin and glucagon
• Parathyroid – four small glands behind the thyroid that play a role in bone health and regulation of calcium in the blood
• Pineal gland – a gland in the center of the brain that produces the chemical melatonin, which regulates sleep patterns
• Pituitary gland – the endocrine system’s master gland, which uses information it gets from the brain to tell other glands in the body what to do
• Testes – the male reproductive glands that produce male sex hormones
• Thymus gland – an organ in the upper chest that makes white blood cells that fight infection and are crucial to the development of immune system in early life
• Thyroid gland – a butterfly-shaped organ in the neck that controls metabolism
Bachelor’s Degree in Any Discipline – Four Year Duration
While they must hold a bachelor’s degree to apply for medical school, aspiring endocrinologists do not have to earn their degree in a specific discipline. However, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), they are most likely to earn a bachelor’s in a major from these areas:
• Biological Sciences
• Social Sciences
• Physical Sciences
• Mathematics / Statistics
Regardless of their chosen undergrad major, students planning to attend medical school must meet med school admission requirements, which typically include:
• Biology with lab
• General Chemistry with lab
• Organic Chemistry with lab
• Physics with lab
• Mathematics and/or Statistics
Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)
It is common for undergraduates to write the MCAT and begin applying to medical schools in their junior year. Through a set of multiple-choice questions, the MCAT allows medical schools to evaluate a candidate’s training and skill set. Many schools share their incoming student MCAT score average on their website to inform undergraduates of how well they need to score to compete with other applicants.
To achieve their highest possible MCAT score, students are encouraged to take advantage of assistance available to them. This includes study materials, pre-tests, practice tests, and online and in-person tutoring. These resources are designed to ensure that students attain the best possible score, which will open doors to medical schools.
Doctoral / Medical Degree in Endocrinology – Thirteen Year Duration (see breakdown below)
The process of becoming a board-certified endocrinologist is a long one. After completing medical school during which they gain general experience in treating patients, candidates begin a residency program in internal medicine/endocrinology, pediatrics, or gynecology. Following completion of their residency, aspiring endocrinologists apply for a fellowship in endocrinology.
Medical School – Four Year Duration
Medical school is a very challenging four years of study that is divided into two parts. The first part, comprising the first two years of the schooling, is focused on course and lab work that prepares students intellectually for patient interaction. This training is in the biological and natural sciences, physiology, chemistry, medical ethics, and the art and practice of medicine. To test their grasp of this portion of training, in the second year of medical school students pursuing a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree must take and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) – Step 1. Those pursuing a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree must take and pass the United States Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) – Level 1. A passing score on the USMLE or COMLEX-USA indicates that students are ready to begin supervised patient visits and gain clinical experience.
The second part of medical school, the second two years, is called Rotations. During this time, students have the opportunity to experience a variety of medical specialties and a variety of medical settings under the supervision of experienced physicians. Rotations further students’ understanding of patient care, situations, scenarios, and the teams that come together to help those that are sick. As they complete rotations, students tend to find out that they gravitate towards certain specialties or environments that fit their particular interests and skill sets. It is important that this time inform their decision of specialty or subspecialty, so that they find complete satisfaction as a physician.
After part two of medical school, students take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) – Step 2 or the United States Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) – Level 2. The objective of these exams is to test whether or not students have developed the clinical knowledge and skills that they will need to transition into unsupervised medical practice.
Internal Medicine / Endocrinology Residency – Six Year Duration
During this period, endocrinology residents treat or participate in the treatment of conditions including those listed below. Part of the residency involves collaborating with other medical professionals including gynecologists, neurologists, oncologists, osteopathic surgeons, pediatricians, and primary care physicians.
• Adrenal disorders including Addison’s disease (an uncommon disorder that occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough of certain hormones) and Cushing’s disease (a serious condition of an excess of the steroid hormone cortisol in the blood level)
• Thyroid cancer
• Developmental growth problems in children such as delayed puberty, precocious puberty (when a child’s body begins changing into that of an adult too soon), short stature, gigantism, and disorders of sexual differentiation (DSD)
• Gynecological disorders such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation), polycystic ovary syndrome (a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age), endometriosis (a painful disorder in which tissue similar to the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterus), and symptoms of menopause
• Multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes (rare disorders that cause tumors to grow in the endocrine glands)
• Osteoporosis (a condition linked to estrogen deficiency, menopause, hyperthyroidism, and low testosterone
• Paget’s disease (a disease of the bone that can cause affected bones to become fragile and misshapen; Paget’s disease most often occurs in the pelvis, skull, spine, and legs)
• Pituitary tumors
• Thyroid diseases including hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), Grave’s disease (an immune system disorder that causes hyperthyroidism), Hashimoto thyroiditis (the most common cause of hypothyroidism), and other types of thyroiditis
Endocrinology Fellowship – Three Year Duration
The three-year endocrinology fellowship usually consists of one year of clinical training, followed by two years of mentorship-guided research. Fellowship programs in endocrinology vary. Some provide general training in the specialization, while others focus on specific conditions, populations, or procedures. Here are some common examples of endocrinology subspecialties:
• Diabetes and Metabolism
• Endocrine Oncology (involving cancer)
• Endocrinology Nuclear Medicine
• Gender Reassignment
• Pediatric Endocrinology
• Reproductive Endocrinology (reproductive endocrinologists are also known as fertility specialists)
• Thyroid Disease
Board certification of endocrinologists is awarded by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM).
Degrees Similar to Endocrinology
There is no distinct pre-medicine degree. ‘Pre-medicine’ or ‘pre-med’ is merely a term that students planning to go to medical school use to describe their undergraduate studies. In fact, aspiring doctors enter med school having earned many different bachelor’s degrees. A science program such as biology or chemistry is certainly a common choice, but it is not mandatory. In other words, a pre-med student can be a psychology major, a statistics major, or a Spanish major. The key for students is to incorporate into their studies the classes needed to apply to medical school.
The focus of biochemistry is the chemical processes and reactions that occur in living matter. Biochemists apply principles of both biology and chemistry to issues in many different sectors, including the environment, medicine and health, industry and manufacturing, agriculture, biofuels, and marine science.
A general biology degree program may include subjects like animal biology, invertebrate biology, vertebrate biology, cellular and molecular biology, evolution, microbiology, and ecology.
Genetics is the study of heredity. It attempts to answer questions about how inherited traits are transmitted from parents to offspring.
Microbiology is the study of all living organisms that are too small to see with the naked eye. These ‘microbes’ include bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, prions, protozoa, and algae.
Degree programs in molecular biology teach the composition, structure, and interactions of cellular molecules like nucleic acids and proteins that are essential to cell function.
Nuclear Medicine Technology
Nuclear medicine technology uses radioactive drugs or radiopharmaceuticals to help diagnose and treat illnesses. Programs in the field include courses in anatomy and physiology, physics, medical microbiology and immunology, radiobiology, and pathophysiology.
This degree field is concerned with the complex relationships between the body, nutrients, and health. Classes cover human nutrition and how the body processes nutrients.
Skills You'll Learn
Through their research, experimentation, use of equations and formulas, and colleague and patient interaction, endocrinology students develop several transferable soft skills:
• Ability to work both independently and in teams
• Decision making
• Extreme attention to detail
• Information technology
• Math / numeracy
• Physical stamina
• Problem solving
• Research, investigation, and analysis
• Stress management
• Synthesizing information
• Understanding statistical data
What Can You Do with an Endocrinology Degree?
What most endocrinology med students want to do, of course, is become an endocrinologist and work in clinical practice, research, or education. Clinical endocrinologists diagnose and treat patients in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings. Clinical research associates are employed by medical or academic labs or medical schools. They may also provide consulting services to biomedical firms and pharmaceutical companies.
Find out what graduates typically earn.Read more