As you explore options in the medical profession, you may be wondering exactly what a cardiologist is and how to become one. The word "cardio" refers to the heart. By definition then, a cardiologist is a medical doctor who is trained and certified to help patients who have problems with their heart, blood vessels or other things connected to the cardiovascular system. These physicians know how to diagnose and treat problems connected to the heart.
The Role of a Cardiologist
Cardiology is an important medical discipline. The heart is a highly important organ, responsible for pumping blood through the whole human body. Its central role means it is connected to and influences other things that effect circulation and respiration. Cardiologists are trained to look for heart disorders, that is anything that would indicate the heart is not working in a normal and healthy fashion. It's the job of a cardiologist to take down a patient's medical history and to perform any tests they need to in order to ascertain how the heart is functioning. Sometimes they locate problems in the coronary circulation system and sometimes in the muscle or lining of the heart (the myocardium or pericardium). Cardiologists may also run test to see if the heart valves are functioning properly, or to assess if someone has diseased blood vessels. They may also treat people who have congenital defects of the heart, that is a problem in the heart's actual structure that has been there since the patient was born.
There are many different kinds of possible heart problems, some mild and other more severe. Cardiologists may treat patients in offices, clinics or hospitals. Patients might see them if they have a heart murmur or a cardiac arrest. A cardiologist often recommends certain kinds of test such as an echocardiogram (EKG) or a cardiac catheterization. Depending on the problems a cardiologist finds, they may recommend various kinds of treatments. Some of these may be preventative measures, such as changes in nutrition and physical exercise that can lead to better heart health. Sometimes they prescribe medications, and other times, they may need to recommend surgical procedures to try to correct a heart problem.
Becoming a cardiologist takes many years of study, training and practice. Their training generally takes about a decade, which is broken down into four years of medical school, three years in general medicine and three years in specialized medicine, according to the American College of Cardiology. After all that study and experience, they have to take a two-day test given by the American Board of Internal Medicine. If they pass this exam, then they can become certified as a cardiologist. Some cardiologists are thought of so highly by their patients and peers that they can be elected as fellows in the American College of Cardiology. Those doctors who have reached that standard are permitted to use the initials F.A.C.C. after their title.
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Although becoming a cardiologist is a long and rigorous process, it's an important profession. Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Discovering what a cardiologist is and how one works may be your first step toward this challenging but rewarding career.