The Early Stages of Becoming a Cardiologist
If you are reading this article on how to become a cardiologist, you are contemplating on embarking on a long, challenging, and most importantly, fulfilling journey. The path to becoming a cardiologist, believe it or not, begins during undergrad because a career in medicine draws people who are very ambitious, driven, and competitive. This competition grows fiercer as the years progress and therefore it is of utmost importance that you do as well as you can during each stage of your academic life, because it all counts. For more information on the path to becoming a doctor, check out our article on MD vs DO which explains the different medical degrees available in the US.
Getting into Medical School
Number of years: 3-4
This is the first step in this long process of becoming a cardiologist. An undergraduate degree usually takes three to four years to complete. During this time, it is very important that grades are kept up. There will be several courses that are difficult including organic chemistry, however this pales in comparison to what lies ahead. You will spend many weekends studying and preparing for exams. The better you do in these classes the better the foundation you build, thereby making MCAT preparation easier. As medical school entrance is become more and more competitive it is important that you keep a strong GPA, score highly on the MCAT, and volunteer in a medical related setting.
A Cardiologist’s Route Through Medical School
Number of years: 4
The first two years of medical school are composed of basic sciences such as classes in pathology, biochemistry and pharmacology after which you will take your first of the medical licensing exams (USMLE Step 1). A rigorous eight-hour exam comprised of more than 300 multiple-choice questions. This exam will be a major determinant of your future career the score used as a benchmark for residency programs to offer or decline you interviews.
During your third year, you will make your transition into the hospital and will apply what you have learned during your first two years. You will rotate through each of the core rotations including Internal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology, General Surgery, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry. After this is the second licensing exam (USMLE Step 2) taken in your final year of medical school. There is a knowledge aspect to USMLE Step 2, known as Step 2 CK, and a clinical skills aspect to Step 2, known as Step 2 CS. These are two different exams taken on two different days. Each of these exams is eight to nine hours.
Cardiology is a sub-specialty of Internal Medicine, so you need to do an internal medicine residency in order to become a cardiologist. You will apply to various Internal Medicine residency programs during your final year of medical school and will match at a residency where the next step of your training lies. During these four years, it would be wise to find time to do research as well, as this will help your chances at securing a strong Internal Medicine residency and therefore increase your chances of becoming a cardiologist.
Internal Medicine Residency
Number of years: 3
Cardiology is a medical specialty, as opposed to a surgical specialty, so you will be required to complete a three-year internal medicine residency on the road to becoming a cardiologist. During these three years, you will learn to become comfortable with evaluating and managing a wide array of medical conditions prior to specializing in the heart. It is important to match into an Internal Medicine program with the best standing and name as possible, as this will make it easier for you to match into a Cardiology fellowship. Another benefit of training at a well-known residency is that you will have better exposure to leaders in the field of Cardiology who may write your letters of recommendation. You will spend countless hours and weekends taking care of ill patients however you will need to show your genuine interest in becoming a cardiologist by getting involved in various research projects and if possible presenting at conferences or even publishing articles, as the field is very competitive. This will build your CV nicely to set you up for a Cardiology fellowship. You will apply during the beginning of your third year and find out where you have been accepted half was through the third year in residency.
Number of years: 3
Next is general cardiology fellowship where you will continue your journey for another three years. The general cardiology fellowship is where you learn to manage a wide range of cardiac conditions from coronary artery disease to valvular heart disease to heart failure and others. You will delve into the depths of the field of cardiology and learn to perform procedures such as the heart catheterization and echocardiography. Different fellowships offer different things with some programs stronger in some aspects than others, and one should keep this in mind depending on what kind of career is desired. At this point you are a cardiologist and can have a career managing heart patients, looking after patients in clinic, and performing basic procedures. Some of you will want to specialize further though in to the advanced subspecialties of cardiology as outlined below. Unfortunately this requires even more time training!
Subspecialty Fellowships for Cardiologist
Heart Failure Fellowship (1 year)
A one year fellowship for those wishing to manage complex heart failure including heart transplant, artificial heart devices, and other forms of heart disease. Heart failure cardiologists will often work very closely with surgeons and deal with very sick patients.
Electrophysiology Fellowship (1-2 years)
This is a one to two year fellowship which includes the management of irregular heart rhythms. These are the Cardiologists who implant devices and pacemakers.
Interventional Cardiology (1-2 years)
This is a one to two year fellowship as well for those who love opening up blocked arteries. If you come to the hospital with a heart attack, these physicians will be your best friends as they have ninety minutes to open your artery up.
Summary of How to Become a Cardiologist
You can see that becoming a Cardiologist takes a lot of time, energy, and effort. It requires, at minimum, 13 years of studying and training after high school, and 10 years after undergrad. I hope this article helps shed some light into what it takes to becoming a Cardiologist and we wish you all success if you embark on your endeavor in joining the ranks. We hope you enjoyed this article on how to become a cardiologist!
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