Cardiologists have been trained to provide comprehensive care for the heart and cardiovascular system, performing diagnostic tests and treating conditions that affect, or are affected by, the heart.
Cardiology is a subspecialty of internal medicine practiced by cardiologists, who are trained to diagnose, treat and manage conditions of the heart and cardiovascular system. These specialists are able to provide care for heart-related conditions while monitoring other factors that may affect the heart or related structures, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes.
Generally, a primary care physician will work in conjunction with, or refer patients to, a cardiologist with regard to cardiovascular complications, as many heart conditions will be outside the realm of care provided by a general or family practitioner. Patients suffering from symptoms such as dizziness, chest or arm pain, shortness of breath or irregular heartbeat may be referred to a cardiologist for diagnostic testing.
Cardiologists may diagnose and treat a variety of heart disorders and related diseases including cardiovascular disease, congenital heart defects, coronary artery disease, heart failure, heart disease, disorders of the aortic and mitral valves, heart aneurysms, anginas, arrhythmias and general chest pains, among others. Cardiologists utilize a variety of techniques and procedures during diagnosis and treatment, including electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) procedures, echocardiograms, nuclear stress tests and treadmill stress tests, among others. Cardiologists can provide patients with education about their conditions, including any preventive measures that may be applicable, in order to help patients return to wholesome and healthy lives.
A cardiologist must complete rigorous educational requirements to become certified in their field. After earning an undergraduate degree focused on the sciences, the student must complete a four year MD or DO medical degree. Following graduation from medical school, a cardiologist-in-training typically enters a three year residency program in internal medicine. After completing the internal medicine or related residency, a cardiology fellowship typically lasting two to three years is required.
During the fellowship, the physician will perform both clinical treatment and research in the field of cardiology. Typical cardiology fellowships will train the physician on a rotating clinical basis, moving between arrhythmia centers, coronary care units, nuclear medicine clinics and echocardiography labs. Here, the fellow will learn how to treat patients with irregular heart rhythms, learn how to diagnose heart conditions using the proper diagnostic instruments and learn to watch and treat patients recovering from heart related illnesses.
After successful completion of a cardiology fellowship, the physician may choose to enter more specialized and demanding fellowships, such as cardiac electrophysiology or interventional cardiology in order to receive the training necessary to subspecialize. These fellowships will allow a physician to practice in a highly specific area of cardiology, as opposed to a career in general cardiology. Many cardiologists seek board certification in internal medicine and cardiovascular disease from the American Board of Internal Medicine. Prior to practicing, the physician must seek medical licensure from the state(s) in which they intend to practice.