How to Become a Cardiologist in 5 Steps

Cardiology is the medical field that focuses on conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. Find out the steps you would need to take to become a cardiologist, which involves first becoming a doctor. Read about education, licensure, residencies and fellowships. Schools offering Cardiovascular Sonography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Cardiologist?

A cardiologist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing, treating and preventing medical conditions of the heart and blood vessels. As a cardiologist, you will examine patients and order diagnostic tests, such as electrocardiographs (EKGs), echocardiograms, exercise tests or cardiac catheterizations. You may also counsel patients regarding cholesterol management and cardiac fitness. Following graduation from medical school, your training will consist of residency training in internal medicine, followed by fellowship training in cardiology.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Prior to entering medical school, you need to have completed premedical courses as an undergraduate. These courses include inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physics and biology. You will also need to prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and form good relationships with your mentors so you can obtain strong letters of recommendation. To become a competitive medical school candidate, most medical schools recommend that you earn a bachelor's degree, gain volunteer or paid clinical experience and participate in extracurricular activities, where you may take on leadership roles.

Step 2: Graduate from Medical School

You need to complete four years of medical school to earn your Medical Doctor (M.D.) degree or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. Either designation can qualify you to practice cardiology. The main difference is that osteopathic medicine programs focus more on the musculoskeletal system and preventative medicine than do allopathic medicine programs. In either type of program, you spend your first two years taking lecture and laboratory courses in the sciences, such as biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology, microbiology, anatomy and physiology. Your last two years are spent completing clinical rotations in a variety of medical specialties, such as internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, family practice and surgery.

Step 3: Earn a Medical License

All physicians must earn a license to practice medicine in the United States or one of its territories. The United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) is required for allopathic physicians, while the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX) is required for osteopathic physicians. Each 3-part exam tests how well you apply your knowledge of science to the practice of medicine.

Step 4: Complete a Residency in Internal Medicine

You'll begin your postgraduate training with a 3-year residency in internal medicine. During your residency, you'll complete a series of clinical rotations in different internal medicine specialties, such as respiratory medicine, cardiology, oncology, endocrinology and gastroenterology. Participating in research during your residency may make you more competitive when applying for fellowships. If you plan to earn subspecialty certification in cardiology, you must first earn board certification in internal medicine after completing your residency. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) regulates board certification for allopathic physicians, while the American Osteopathic Association is the osteopathic counterpart.

Step 5: Complete a Fellowship in Cardiology

Cardiology fellowships generally take 3-4 years to complete. You'll spend part of your time gaining clinical skills by completing cardiology rotations and part of your time conducting basic or clinical research. Once you have completed your fellowship, you may earn subspecialty certification from an ABMS or AOA approved specialty-certifying board.

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