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Interventional Cardiology (IM)
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Specialty Description

What is an interventional cardiologist?

Interventional Cardiology is an area of medicine within the subspecialty of cardiology that uses specialized imaging and other diagnostic techniques to evaluate blood flow and pressure in the coronary arteries and chambers of the heart, as well as technical procedures and medications to treat abnormalities that impair the function of the cardiovascular system.

Interventional cardiology is the subspecialty of cardiology that deals specifically with the catheter- based treatment of heart diseases. The field includes the diagnosis and treatment of coronary artery disease, vascular disease and acquired structural heart disease. For pediatric interventional cardiologists, congenital heart defects are the major focus of diagnosis and treatment.

Interventional cardiology has grown to bridge many specialties, which were traditionally seen as somewhat isolated from one another. For example, endovascular techniques mastered within the small- caliber and bifurcating coronary artery vessels of a beating heart in a conscious patient can be applied in larger vessels within immobile organs, especially when procedures are done under sedation or anesthesia. This exemplifies the way interventional cardiologists work in a variety of vascular territories, including the carotid circulation, the upper and lower extremities, and the aorta and its branches. Interventional cardiology has grown in parallel with great achievements in techniques and technologies, to many innovations in its rather brief lifetime—the first balloon angioplasty was only performed in 1977.

How to become an interventional cardiologist?

Interventional cardiology, a subspecialty of adult cardiology, requires a minimum one-year interventional cardiology fellowship in addition to the specialized training required for cardiology. Although there are no subspecialty boards in pediatric cardiology, most physicians planning on performing pediatric interventional catheterizations opt to complete an additional nonaccredited year of interventional catheterization.

In an effort to ensure trainees meet the rigors of the science and mastery of interventional techniques, entry into an interventional cardiology specialty fellowship program is highly competitive. Interventional cardiology has a strong foundation of device-based research and innovation that can be appealing to those with a keen interest in biotechnology, physics and hydrodynamics. This specialty requires an investment in additional years of career preparation and a lifelong commitment to learning, including Maintenance of Certification. The skills required for success in this field include excellent communication, confidence, technical ability and a willingness to participate in the increasingly utilized team-based-care approach.

What does an interventional cardiologist do?

Life as an interventional cardiologist may include active on-call work, as one must be immediately available to treat a patient having an emergent event. One should also be physically strong enough to wear 20 pounds of lead protection and perform procedures in an X-ray exposure environment. Interventional cardiologists note that seeing immediate benefits in patients, including being able to stop a heart attack, is exciting and rewarding.

Interventional cardiologists’ work settings include on-call work in emergency departments; cardiology and multispecialty private practices; private, government and military hospitals; and medical schools and universities. Interventional cardiologists primarily perform diagnostic and treatment procedures, and any associated follow-up.