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Cardiovascular Disease (IM)
Training Information
Specialty Description

What is a cardiologist?

A cardiovascular disease specialist is an internist who specializes in diseases of the heart and blood vessels and manages complex cardiac conditions such as heart attacks and life-threatening, abnormal heart rhythms.

What does a cardiologist do?

Cardiovascular diseases is the medical subspecialty dealing with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the heart and vascular system. Functions of a cardiovascular specialist include the management, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of coronary artery disease, vascular disease, heart rhythm abnormalities, adult congenital heart disease and heart failure. Within the subspecialty, several sub-subspecialties, including interventional cardiology, electrophysiology, advanced heart failure and transplantation, and adult congenital heart disease, exist. In addition, specialists in cardiovascular diseases work closely with cardiothoracic surgery specialists.

How to become a cardiologist?

Entry into a cardiovascular specialty training program is highly competitive and the intense training in the subspecialty is designed for the acquisition of the required scientific knowledge and mastery of clinical skills necessary for independent practice. Moreover, excellence in this specialty requires an investment of additional years of career preparation and a lifelong commitment to learning. Since cardiovascular diseases continue to be a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States, there is a great opportunity for a cardiovascular specialist to impact the lives of patients and the health status of our communities.

Physicians graduating from US medical schools typically have completed a bachelor’s degree and four years of medical school. For certifying as a specialist in cardiovascular diseases, a medical school graduate will require six to eight additional years of training (three years of internal medicine residency and three to five years of cardiovascular disease fellowship training). The duration of the subspecialty training (e.g., interventional cardiology and clinical electrophysiology) is variable depending on the institution and could be one to two years.

A subspecialty program in cardiovascular diseases provides training and supervised experience in the evaluation, diagnosis and management of a variety of acute and chronic cardiovascular conditions.

Cardiovascular subspecialty training includes:

  • Clinical training, including inpatient and special experiences

  • Cardiac catheterization laboratory

  • Noninvasive cardiac evaluations, consisting of echocardiography, nuclear cardiology, exercise stress testing, ECG interpretation and ambulatory ECG recording, cardiac CT, cardiac MR Imaging, etc.

  • Electrophysiology, pacemaker follow-up and ICDs

  • Heart failure

  • Nonlaboratory clinical practice activities (e.g., consultations, cardiac care units, postoperative care of cardiac surgery patients)

Once training is completed, cardiovascular specialists are certified by one of the boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties (such as  the American Board of Internal Medicine) or the Advisory Board for Osteopathic Specialists of the American Osteopathic Association. The vast majority of board-certified cardiologists become members of the American College of Cardiology.

Cardiovascular specialists could work within different types of practice settings—academic (medical school and university-based) or nonacademic (employed by hospital, solo or group private  practice, government or military hospitals).

Some of the reasons cardiovascular specialists choose this discipline include:

  • It offers professional challenges and specialized options

  • It is dynamic and constantly evolving as the science and practice change.

  • It has a significant impact on patients’ lives.