How to Become a <br>Cardiologist

How to Become a

Eric Ciechanowski
By Eric Ciechanowski
Last Updated: September 19, 2022
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Are you driven by a desire to save lives for a living? If your answer is yes, then you may want to consider a career as a Cardiologist. This article will cover what you need to know about being Cardiologist, and will also feature insights from a current practicing Cardiologist.

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What Does a Cardiologist Do?

A Cardiologist is a Doctor that specializes in the Cardiovascular system. In layman’s terms, a Cardiologist is a heart Doctor. Cardiologists often work in a hospital setting or in a private practice setting.

Being a cardiologist requires a mastery of how the cardiovascular system works, as well as acute observational skills to apply said knowledge to diagnosing and treating patients. Some typical daily tasks of a Cardiologist include:

  • Communicative tasks, such as meeting with patients and listening to them describe their symptoms

  • Diagnostic tasks, such as running various tests based on patient symptoms

  • Analytical tasks, such as deducing patient conditions based on symptoms and developing a corresponding treatment plan

Cardiologist Skills

Being a successful Cardiologist requires a mix of hard and soft skills. A Cardiologist can be extremely knowledgeable about the cardiovascular system and still not be successful. Cardiologists must have excellent interpersonal skills in order to have a bedside manner that makes patients feel comfortable and well cared for. A Cardiologist must also have supreme confidence in their decision-making ability. This is especially true for those who work in a hospital setting, as those who come to the hospital with heart issues are often emergency patients. A good Cardiologist has to be able to make a life-or-death decision under pressure.

Other key Cardiologist skills include:

  • Complex problem solving

  • Critical thinking

  • Compassion

  • Written and verbal communication

  • Self-confidence

How Do You Become a Cardiologist?

Education and Training

It is no secret that Cardiologists have an impressive annual salary, but it takes a lot of schooling to get that first job. The first step is earning a Bachelor’s degree. Although it is not technically required to major in Pre-Med at the undergraduate level, this is the path taken by a majority of aspiring Cardiologists. The first two years of the program consist of general education classes, while the final two years focus on biology, anatomy and physiology.

The next step for an aspiring Cardiologist is medical school, where one earns their Medical Doctorate in Cardiology. The first two years of a doctorate program in Cardiology generally consist of more intensive classes in physiology, anatomy, basic medicine and pathophysiology. The final two years are spent logging clinical hours under a licensed Cardiologist.

The third step in becoming a Cardiologist is completing a professional residency. These programs typically involve three years of working in a real-world setting under a licensed Cardiologist. These positions are typically paid, but the pay is a fraction of a licensed Cardiologist’s salary. It is during one’s residency when they figure out in which area of Cardiology he or she would like to specialize.

The final step in becoming a Cardiologist is passing the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). The USMLE is a rigorous  three-step examination that takes a total of four days. Step one is a one-day examination with eight 60-minute sessions. There are between 30 and 40 multiple choice questions in each section, with a total of 280 questions. Step two is another one-day examination that is a total of nine hours and contains a total of 318 questions. Step three is a two-day test. The first day covers the foundations of independent practice, while the second day covers advanced clinical medicine. If you want to research the USMLE in more detail, then head on over to their website.

Finding a Job

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for Physicians and Surgeons, which includes Cardiologists, will grow 14 percent through 2024. This growth, which is double the average of 7 percent, can be mostly attributed to our aging population. Heart disease is one of the top killers of American adults, so it is fair to assume that a good amount of the 99,300 jobs projected to be created through 2024 will be in Cardiology.

Given that Cardiology is a specialized field, it is imperative that your resume match the standard for the field. Take a look at our Cardiologist Resume Samples to ensure your resume is up to par.

Once you have a resume that conveys your skills, you are ready to search online for job opportunities. Do some research on the companies with openings that catch your eye.

Take this research and weave it into your cover letter. Let your passion for the position show. If you’re stuck on crafting your cover letter, then check out our cover letter samples for inspiration.

Insights from a Cardiologist

We spoke with a practicing Cardiologist to give you a deeper look into the field of Cardiology. We Spoke with Gregory S. Thomas, Medical Director for the MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center located in California. Gregory is also a Clinical Professor at UC Irvine. Here’s what he had to say.

What is the common career path for a Cardiologist?

Following undergraduate and medical school, a Cardiologist will complete a three-year internal medicine residency program. Midway through this program the physician will apply for a Cardiology fellowship. Like oncology and gastroenterology, these are sought-after specialties and, therefore, the application process is competitive. If successful, the future Cardiologist will complete a three-year Cardiology fellowship.

About one-third of those will apply for an additional one- to two-year subspecialty fellowship in specialties such as coronary intervention, structural heart disease, non-invasive imaging, electrophysiology, congestive heart failure or adult congenital heart disease. Approximately nine months prior to completing training, the cardiologist will apply for a permanent position. These can be based in a variety of health care settings—an academic medical center, teaching hospital, community hospital or private office. In each of these instances, most cardiologists will join a group rather than set out on their own. Being part of a group allows a Cardiologist to specialize in a certain area of cardiology (called sub-specialization) within the practice and provides a greater base of support to cover night and weekend patient call responsibilities.

What should someone consider before becoming a Cardiologist?

Love of the job or at least satisfaction and fulfillment of the work is necessary for success, given the long hours and rigor of the position. Cardiologists care for some of the most ill patients in health care. They are expected to work 50-70 hours per week and to take call for all patients needing immediate care within the group. For a typical group, call will be approximately every fourth night and fourth weekend. A Cardiologist’s decision making can make a difference between life, death or major morbidity of a patient.

This can be thrilling and not dissimilar to an emergency room television show, but requires confidence in one’s own decision making and a surety that not everyone may possess. The position can be all consuming. Cardiologists usually identify themselves as cardiologists more than any other role they may have in life. The satisfaction of a job well done and the potential to extend the life of one’s patients, however, can make up for the hours and challenging lifestyle.

What type of person excels in this position?

While a quest for continuing excellence is a given, what is also critical are passion for the work, deep caring for patients, a lack of fear of hard work, the ability to work as a team with other physicians, nurses and other clinicians and members of the team, and often to inspire confidence to lead the team. A physician caring for very ill patients needs to develop the sense that the needs of a patient are more important than their own. When a patient calls and needs emergent care from a cardiologist on call, the patient’s needs become more important than the physician’s or the physician’s family.

Given the rapid advances in science and medicine, a love of learning over a lifetime defines an outstanding Cardiologist. Keeping up with new knowledge in Cardiology directly relevant to the needs of one’s patients requires lifelong learning, but is doable within the confines of a specialty such as Cardiology. Learning from journals and conferences as well as from the care of patients allows a Cardiologist to become an even better physician over his or her career.

What are some of the most important skills for a Cardiologist to have?

Intelligence and critical thinking are a given. A Cardiologist is like a detective, sorting through a patient’s symptoms, physical examination and test results to come up with the most likely diagnosis. A Cardiologist who shares and shows her or his sense of caring with their patients will also be very successful. In 1925, Francis W. Peabody, M.D. inspired a class of graduating medical students with the admonition that “an essential quality of a physician is interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.” This axiom remains true to this day.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Cardiologist?

Caring Cardiologists and their patients can develop a bond, a very special doctor-patient relationship. The patient is remarkably dependent on his or her Cardiologist. Heart problems are often fatal and the measures that Cardiologists and their patients take to slow down the progression of, or at times even cure, heart disease are critical in the life of a patient. The pride and feeling of fulfillment that a Cardiologist can experience in the care of their patients is extraordinary.

Patients are often well aware of their need for cardiac care and that working with their Cardiologist to treat or prevent disease with medicines, surgery, diet or physical activity can truly extend their life and allow them to spend more time and years with their family and friends. The relationship between a Cardiologist and patient is often precious for both the patient and their Cardiologist.

How Much do Cardiologists get Paid?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median salary for Physicians and Surgeons, including Cardiologists, is $187,200.

Cardiologist Resources

Check out the following resources if you wish to further explore the field of Cardiology.

Around the Web
This website is a great educational resource for aspiring Cardiologists. It has exercises and games designed to help review Cardiology principles and ECGs.
This blog is run by Dr. John Mandrola, a practicing cardiac electrophysiologist in Louisville, Kentucky. It has over 1,000 posts on all things Cardiology and is updated regularly.
This is a blog that caters to both cardiac patients and practicing Cardiologists. It has a section dedicated to professionals that is regularly updated with scholarly research papers.

Professional Organizations

American College of Cardiology
This organization has nearly 50,000 members, which makes it one of the biggest professional organizations for Cardiologists.

International Association of Cardiologists
This organization prides itself on being a premier networking organization for elite Cardiologists around the world. It is a great resource for those who want to connect with colleagues on a global scale.

American Heart Association
Although it is not technically a professional organization, the American Heart Association is a great resource for Cardiologists. The website has a news aggregator that provides scholarly Cardiology articles daily.