How to Become a Cardiologist

CareerStint Staff Dec 1, 2018
Becoming a cardiologist is not only a good career option, it is a career option that pays handsomely as well. Read more for the steps you will need to take to become a heart specialist in the United States.

Did You Know?

It takes approximately 15 years of studying to become a certified cardiologist in the United States!
The human heart is a very complex organ, requiring a highly specialized doctor, known as a cardiologist, to detect and treat it when problems, like heart attacks, stroke, heart failure, heart blockage, etc., surface.
Due to the complexity of this vital organ, not everyone can become a heart doctor, and it takes a lot of effort to become one. The career path to a successful cardiologist is long, and filled with years of study. However, once you become a cardiologist, the remuneration is significant, with most doctors earning between the range of US$80,524 to US$474,270.

How to Become a Heart Specialist in USA

To become a successful cardiologist, you have to start planning early. This means that there are some subjects you have to choose in school itself, which will make it easier to pursue the career of a cardiologist later. The road to becoming a successful heart doctor is long, but if you have set your mind to it, you need to know what lies in store for you.

Basic Education

As part of your basic education, you will have to graduate from high school, and then get a Bachelor's Degree from a college or university.
While it does not matter what you major in, most aspirants graduate from college with a science degree. The subjects to concentrate on in these 4 years are general science, chemistry, biology, physics, etc., as they are related to the subjects for becoming a cardiologist.
You must keep in mind that your Bachelor's degree will count towards getting admission in a good medical school. Therefore, you should have good grades, and show a sense of responsibility.
Taking up part-time medical jobs while in college will also be useful when it comes to getting admission in a good medical school. You could volunteer with local hospitals, charitable organizations, churches, etc., to help your admission prospects.

Entrance Exam

While pursuing your basic education, you will also have to study for the medical entrance exam.
This test is very important and decides which medical school you get admission in. It is called the Medical School Admission Test or MCAT, has to be given when you are in the final year of your basic education. This is a multiple choice question test, and it is imperative to pass this with flying colors.

Choosing a Medical School

Once you are done with basic education and have given the MCAT, it is time to choose a medical school. An annual publication, called the 'Medical School Admission Requirements' or 'MSAR', provides information related to every medical school in the country.
For admission, you will require at least one year of provable study with subjects like chemistry, physics, biology, or general science. The admission criteria for some medical schools are very strict, and it is very possible that you may have to apply more than once to get into a reputed school.

Medical School

Once you get admission, the next 4 years are spent learning all about medicine. First 2 years focus on anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, embryology, microbiology, and pathology. These subjects are common for any branch of medicine you choose.
During these 2 years, you can change your specialization to any other branch if desired. On completion of 2 years, you have to take the USMLE exam Part I (US Medical Licensing Exam). This 350-question online exam covers the syllabus studied in all subjects of the first 2 years. It is necessary to pass this exam to continue studying to become a cardiologist.
In the 3rd year, you will focus on clinical work required to become a doctor. During this year, you will be required to take rotations from 4 weeks to 3 months in every primary medical field, including medicine, surgery, neurology, psychology, family practice, obstetrics, and gynecology.
You will have to see patients, interview them, carry out physical exams, practice diagnostic skills, and understand as well learn the different signs and symptoms of diseases.
On completing your 3rd year, you will have to take the US Medical Licensing Exam Part II. This is a highly clinical exam, based on various scenarios to test your basic diagnostic skills, and is considered to be much tougher than the exam taken at the end of the 2nd year.
The examination used as a ranking tool by hospital residency programs. As before, you will need to pass this exam to continue your medical studies.
In your 4th year, you will have to undergo specialized rotations. This helps you decide the kind of doctor you want to be. You will also have to start applying for residency programs, as you will not be a licensed doctor allowed to practice medicine unsupervised.

Residency

To become a licensed doctor, you will have to join a hospital as a resident doctor, where you will be required to take care and oversee patients of attending physicians.
A residency program can last for about 3 years for family practice or pediatrics, and can take up to 7 years for ophthalmology or neurosurgery. To become a cardiologist, you will have to choose cardiology as your residency program, which will last for 3 years.
You will be working as a resident doctor, who is also a student. The first two years of the cardiology residency program consists of learning and working through all the areas of cardiology. The third year covers in-depth training related to one or two selected areas chosen by you related to cardiology. 
You will also be able to take part in clinical research during the third year. To become a cardiologist you will first need to complete a 3-year residency in Internal Medicine, after which you can complete your 3-year residency in cardiology. You will also need to undergo further training to become a qualified cardiologist.
During your residency program, you will have to give Part III of the US Medical Licensing Exam. This is the toughest of all the licensing exams, and if you want to become a practicing doctor, you will have to pass this exam.

Licensing and Certification

If you intend to practice medicine in the United States, then you will have to obtain a license by clearing all parts of the US Medical Licensing Exam. To become a cardiologist, you will also need to be board certified in addition to having a license.
Cardiologists need to be certified in two specialties, internal medicine and cardiology. These certifications can be sought by applying to the American Board of Medical Specialties, and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Once you complete these requirements, you will be issued a license to practice.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Cardiologist?

Everyone who thinks about becoming a cardiologist, also wonders how long it takes to become one. The rigorous education requirements makes the time period for becoming a cardiologist very long.
You will need to undergo a 4-year Bachelor's Degree, then spend 4 years at a medical school. After that, you need to give 3 to 4 years to a residency program, and after that about 2 years to complete a fellowship program. This means it takes approximately 15 years to become a cardiologist.
All of these 15 years are going to be very difficult, and taxing. First, you need to pass your Bachelor's Degree with good marks, followed by the MCAT exams with good grades. You need to pass each exam at medical school, as well as pass the medical licensing exams too.
It is not easy to spend 3 years in a residency program, as you will need to take care of patients as well as study to earn certification. So, basically it is a tough job to become a cardiologist. However, if you have set your mind to your goal, nothing is impossible.
The demand for cardiologists in the medical sector is very high. This is because lifestyle changes are making people more and more prone to heart ailments. As the heart is a very important organ of the human body, proper treatment and care can help save a patient's life.
If you are prepared to spend most of your time studying and focusing on your career, then becoming a cardiologist is no big deal. Concentration, perseverance, as well as ability to grasp is very important in becoming a cardiologist.