What Is a Cardiologist? A Look at These Heart Health Heroes


02.05.2018

Heart and soul. Having a heart to heart. Pouring your heart out. Heartbreaking.

The heart is not just a universal representation of love, empathy, emotion, and meaning. It’s also responsible for pumping around 2,000 gallons of blood each day.

Because of this organ’s importance, the medical field devoted to caring for it is steeped in specialized expertise. If you’re looking into cardiology as a branch of medicine you might want to pursue, it’s natural for you to have questions. What is a cardiologist? What do they do? Why are they so important to the patients they help treat?

If you’re interested in cardiology, listen up as we explain the many critical roles of a cardiologist.

What is a cardiologist?

In the simplest sense, cardiologists are doctors who work with the heart and blood vessels. They diagnose, treat, and work to prevent diseases of the heart. A cardiologist is a specialist who acts as a consultant to other doctors. They also see patients that are experiencing heart problems.

Cardiology is a complex discipline. Aspiring cardiologists receive an extensive education: four years of medical school, three years of training in internal medicine, and then three or more years in specialized cardiology training. To understand the intricacies of the human heart, cardiologists end up studying and training for ten or more years.

And with the widespread threat of heart disease, they’re needed more than ever.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the US. One in every four deaths can be attributed to heart disease. Because the heart is such a critical organ, cardiologic care is an important branch of medicine.

What does a cardiologist do?

Most patients see a cardiologist when they are referred by their primary care physician. They may be suffering from heart conditions and experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, heart murmurs, electrocardiogram (ECG) changes, or chest pain. A cardiologist can then examine these symptoms.

Cardiologists are also involved in more serious cases of heart failure. They help heart disease survivors and counsel patients on prevention methods. Cardiologists treat heart attacks, heart failure, and heart rhythm disturbances. Their expertise is needed for procedures such as cardiac catheterization, balloon angioplasty, and heart surgery.

Cardiologists work in both offices and hospitals. When they see a patient, they typically perform a physical and examine blood pressure, weight, heart, lungs, and blood vessels. They may also order some tests, such as ECGs, x-rays, blood work, or other specialized tests. They may recommend or perform an echocardiogram, an ambulatory ECG, an exercise test, or a cardiac catheterization.

What are some cardiology subspecialties?

Cardiology is a vast medical branch, spanning adult cardiology and pediatric cardiology, as well as special procedures, such as balloon angioplasty, stent placement, and echocardiography. A few subspecialized areas of cardiology include the following:

Interventional cardiology

Interventional cardiology involves the invasive management of heart disease, typically using a catheter. Doctors specializing in interventional cardiology spend an extra year of training following a cardiovascular fellowship.

They practice in cardiology group practices and medical facilities that perform interventional cardiology procedures. Some of the diseases they work with include ischemic heart disease, valve disease, and congenital heart abnormalities.

Advanced heart failure and transplant cardiology

Advanced heart failure and transplant cardiology is a specialty within cardiology that manages complicated heart failure cases. These specialists implement electrophysiologic and hemodynamic support devices and perform surgical procedures. They examine patients that may benefit from a heart transplant, and may even act as a consultant for other physicians managing patients with significant heart failure.

Advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologists work in clinics and healthcare settings that perform heart transplants. These cardiologists spend an additional year in training following their cardiovascular fellowship.

Clinical cardiac electrophysiology

Clinical cardiac electrophysiology focuses on managing complex cardiac electrophysiologic disease. These specialists focus on the mechanisms of the heart’s electrical activities and help patients with significant heart rhythm disturbances. Cardiac electrophysiologists perform both noninvasive and invasive diagnostic procedures. They treat arrhythmias by prescribing medication, installing devices, and administering interventional methods.

Clinical cardiac electrophysiology specialists train an additional year following their cardiovascular disease fellowship and may work in cardiology group practices and other medical facilities.

The heart of the matter

Now that you know what a cardiologist is, do you think you have what it takes to care for a patient’s heart? It’s an essential role in the medical field that requires attention to detail.

Taking the time to research specialties like cardiology is an important step in becoming a doctor. Choosing a medical field is one of the many decisions you’ll make as you work toward obtaining your coveted white coat. Another choice you’ll have to make is selecting a medical school. But there’s more to that decision than you may realize.

Be sure you understand which selection criteria matter most. Learn more by checking out our article, “How to Choose a Medical School: 9 Things to Evaluate Before Accepting.”

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