Heart disease is the world’s leading health threat. It’s singlehandedly responsible for the most deaths in the world—of both men and women, of all races.
Over 30 million Americans were diagnosed with heart disease in 2018 alone. Almost 650,000 Americans die every year because of heart disease. One out of every four deaths is attributed to it.
So, if you’re wondering how to become a cardiologist, you’ll find yourself in a worthwhile, essential career that aims to make a dent in these staggering numbers. Heart health is important—and so are heart doctors. This job will no doubt make an impact in your local community and beyond.
A career of such important work doesn’t come easy, however. Keep reading to see how you can start preparing for this journey.
What Is a Cardiologist? Breaking Down the Job Role
Heart disease is a broad term, meaning more than one thing.
There are several types of the disease, and they can occur for various reasons—genetics, unhealthy lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking), blood vessel defects, and more. Additionally, there’s a whole slew of other problems when one includes cardiovascular diseases, which impact the entire circulatory system as well as the heart.
Because of this, cardiologists have a large role.
In simple terms, a cardiologist deals with the heart and its blood vessels; but the job description requires a baseline knowledge of the entire cardiovascular system and its operations. They treat all types of heart conditions at various stages. Their work is also preventative—teaching the population how to live a heart-healthy life.
Various types of heart issues treated by cardiologists include heart attacks, high blood pressure, heart failure, and more.
A Noble Endeavor: How to Become a Cardiologist
Now, let’s find out more about how one integrates themselves into this career path.
It’s important to know that such a wide-ranging, crucial healthcare role means a long-term educational commitment. One must be prepared for years of schooling, studying, and clinical, hands-on training. This job is ideal for individuals interested in pursuing healthcare careers who are prepared to commit the appropriate time and effort to succeed and learn.
To practice at a hospital or a private practice as a cardiologist, someone should consider taking the following steps.
Achieve a Relevant Bachelor’s Degree
One typically decides to become a cardiologist early in their education.
Because of the program’s length, it’s easiest to begin the process as early as possible—with a health-related undergraduate degree. These degrees take at least four years to complete and will require you to take several health- and science-specific courses.
You’ll take classes such as chemistry, biology, and physics, to name a few. It’s generally known that these classes take enormous effort, time, and hours upon hours of studying—so you’ll have to be content with buckling down, working hard, and playing little.
Pursue Further Education by Attending Medical School
Once you’ve received your BS degree, next up is applying to medical schools, where you’ll receive your MD.
Again, prepare for four long years of study and applied learning practices. In medical school, you’ll continue your education while becoming more hands-on through labs and even working in a hospital. You’ll be able to apply what you’ve learned thus far and see how it translates to a real work setting.
If all goes according to plan, you’ll have an MD in around eight years (undergrad plus medical school).
Achieve Licensure by Passing Examinations
It’s time to apply for a medical license, which allows you to continue your education by attending a residency program and then a cardiology fellowship.
As with other types of licenses, you’ll need to apply your knowledge to an exam to prove your skillset. By passing these rigorous exams, you’ll prove you’ve retained the information needed to do a sound job.
Once you’ve passed, you’ll receive a medical license and pursue professional practice—after the final two steps.
Spend Three Years in a Residency Program
Residence programs cover a broad scope and are a fantastic way for prospective doctors and healthcare professionals to network, practice their skillset, and further their education.
During these three years, you’ll work at various healthcare settings—such as hospitals—and do what’s called “clinical rotations.” You may work in settings that don’t pertain to cardiology but rather, give you an idea of the healthcare field in general. That might entail working on the oncology floor, for example.
While you’re in residency, spend time connecting with other healthcare professionals and leaders. Establish relationships, mentorships, and receive recommendations. Doing so will help you in the final stages of becoming a cardiologist as you look for work.
Commit Three Years to a Cardiology Fellowship
Finally, you’ll do another form of clinical rotations, but this time under a cardiology fellowship. This stage of the process fine-tunes your skills, hones in on heart health, and allows you to learn about a wide range of health conditions and how to treat them.
As a cardiology fellow, you’ll both diagnose and manage patients with varying health conditions.
Finally, after three years of fellowship, you’ll take one final exam—the Cardiovascular Disease Certification Examination (CDCE). Passing this exam is the final step to becoming eligible to practice cardiology in the United States.
If you’ve made it here, congratulations, and welcome to one of the most rewarding careers imaginable.
Healthy Heart, Happy Life
Being a heart doctor is an honorable commitment. As long as heart disease continues to be a leading problem globally, cardiologists will continue to be necessary.
Now that you know how to become a cardiologist, it’s time to get started—there’s a long journey ahead, full of both challenges and rewards.
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