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Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism (IM)
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Specialty Description

What is an endocrinologist?

An internist who concentrates on disorders of the internal (endocrine) glands, such as the thyroid and adrenal glands, this specialist also deals with disorders such as diabetes, metabolic and nutritional disorders, obesity, pituitary diseases, and menstrual and sexual problems.

Endocrinology is the specialty of medicine that deals with the problems, diseases and medical conditions of the endocrine system. A medical endocrinologist is a physician specializing in the complex task of diagnosing and treating hormonal disorders and other metabolic disorders.

Because endocrinologists rely on laboratory tests to assist in determining the disorders of their patients, many have backgrounds in biochemistry and research. In addition, endocrinologists usually have background training in one of a number of different medical fields such as pediatrics, internal medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology. All medical endocrinologists have an MD or an analogous medical degree and some also have a PhD or another advanced science degree.

What does an endocrinologist do?

Endocrinologists typically evaluate, diagnose and treat people with diabetes, thyroid disease, osteoporosis, infertility, and disorders of the pituitary and adrenal glands, as well as diseases that can  affect growth, development and metabolism. This is done through the use of laboratory tests, tissue sampling, genetic analysis and high-resolution medical imaging. Endocrinologists frequently perform dynamic endocrine testing to stimulate or inhibit hormonal pathways to diagnose various conditions. They can perform and interpret bone mineral density tests in the evaluation of people with metabolic bone disease and may perform thyroid ultrasonography and ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration biopsies in the evaluation of patients with thyroid conditions. Some endocrinologists attain special certification to use radiopharmaceutical agents in the diagnosis and treatment of various endocrine conditions.

Although endocrinologists spend most of their time taking care of patients in an outpatient setting, some may perform inpatient consultations as well. There are few emergencies in the field of endocrinology, so many endocrinologists are able  to balance the demands of work and family quite easily. Because endocrinologists are in high demand in urban, suburban and rural settings, many have the ability to set schedules to suit personal and professional needs as well as work part time if desired. Endocrinologists have the option of working in many different environments, including hospitals, academic medical centers, clinics and private practice.

Endocrinologists usually see patients on a consultative basis as well as for ongoing, long-term follow-up. Because endocrine diseases, such as diabetes, are typically lifelong, endocrinologists may have long and close relationships with their patients.

How to become an endocrinologist?

Physicians who decide on endocrinology as a subspecialty are required to complete a three-year residency in internal medicine. Following residency, physicians must complete two to three years of fellowship training in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism.