Daily Duties of Cardiologists

Cardiologists treat patients of all ages.

Cardiologists treat patients of all ages.

When broken hearts need healing -- and not in the romantic way -- cardiologists are the specialists to call. Cardiologists are physicians who diagnose and treat diseases of the heart and blood vessels in patients of all ages, even fetuses. It's a rewarding career, but one that requires a lot of study, willingness to be called anytime of the day or night, and the ability to stay calm when dealing with life-threatening conditions.

Duties

On a daily basis, cardiologists see patients referred by their primary physicians. These patients have conditions requiring the attention of a specialist, such as dizziness, shortness of breath and heart rhythm problems. It's the cardiologist's duty to diagnose, treat and manage the patient's condition. At times, these tasks are handled on an emergency basis, such as when a patient arrives in the hospital emergency room experiencing chest pains or other heart symptoms. During office visits, cardiologists may perform general medical exams, which include checking a patient's blood pressure, weight and lungs.

Tests and Diagnoses

Cardiologists diagnose conditions such as artery disease; aneurysms, which occur when a blocked artery bursts; problems with heart valves; and heart failure. To make a diagnosis, they may order additional tests, such as an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to determine heart function; an exercise stress test' and other specialized testing that cardiologists are trained to perform and interpret. Following a diagnosis, it's the cardiologist's duty to prescribe lifestyle changes and medication to manage and prevent cardiovascular problems. He may also recommend procedures such as cardiac catheterization, where a small tube is placed in or near the heart to take pictures or relieve blockage; balloon angioplasty, a technique for widening narrowed or obstructed arteries; or heart surgery. They work as a team with the patient's other doctors and nurses to get the patient healthy.

Specialties

Cardiologists typically do not perform surgery. Most refer patients to cardiac surgeons for complex surgical procedures that require opening the chest. Cardiologists may be trained to perform cardiac catheterizations or insert pacemakers, which require only small skin punctures or incisions. Others specialize in performing and interpreting echocardiograms and exercise tests; managing cholesterol levels in patients; or devising physical fitness regimes to rehabilitate the heart. Some cardiologists obtain further education or fellowships to go into research or teach in academic settings. Pediatric cardiologists first train in pediatrics before being trained in cardiology. After that, they are able to evaluate and treat congenital or acquired cardiac and cardiovascular conditions in fetuses, and follow patients from infancy into adulthood.

Salary and Outlook

In 2011, cardiologists earned a mean annual salary of $314,000 a year, according to the Medscape 2012 Cardiologist Compensation Report. This places them behind only radiologists and orthopedic surgeons in terms of physician salaries. As with other professions, salaries vary according to factors such as education, work experience, geographic location and employer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of all physicians and surgeons will grow by 24 percent from 2010 to 2020. The BLS says cardiologists in particular will face good employment prospects, because risks for diseases such as heart disease increase as people age.

 

About the Author

Located in the mid-Atlantic United States, Elizabeth Layne has covered nonprofits and philanthropy since 1997, and has written articles on an array of topics for small businesses and career-seekers. An award-winning writer, her work has appeared in "The Chronicle of Philanthropy" newspaper and "Worth" magazine. Layne holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from The George Washington University.

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