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The heart is a precious lifeline that keeps us alive. Yet so many people neglect their heart, engaging in detrimental habits and poor lifestyle choices. Did you know that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US? When people are obese, have diabetes, smoke or have high cholesterol, then their risks for contracting this disease are high. But cardiologists - specialists who diagnose and treat heart diseases - encourage people to quit smoking, start exercising and eat healthier, which will result in a healthier heart and lifestyle.

Cardiologists specialize in preventing and treating all heart diseases and conditions, such as heart disease, chest pain, angina, heart attacks, and palpitations through cardiac catheterization, coronary angioplasty and stent insertion, pacemakers and echocardiography. Sound complicated? Well these conditions are a bit complicated as they all center around the heart.

People with symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pains, or dizzy spells often require the attention of a cardiologist. Most importantly, cardiologists treat heart attacks, heart failure, and serious heart rhythm disturbances. Their skills and training are required for decisions about heart catheterization, balloon angioplasty, heart surgery, and other procedures. A cardiologist will review a patient's medical history and perform a physical examination which may include checking blood pressure, weight, heart, lungs, and blood vessels. While some problems may be diagnosed from this examination, the cardiologist may order an ECG, x-ray, or blood tests. In these tests, they study images and recordings of the heart to help make a diagnosis.

If a patient's condition is grave and needs special attention or surgery, the cardiologist may refer patients to cardiovascular surgeons. Otherwise, they perform tests like angiograms and angioplasty. Another treatment technique they use are pacemakers - highly sophisticated devices that are implanted to treat various disorders of heart rhythm. The pacemaker is a metal box/generator, which contains the battery and circuitry to interpret changes in the heart rhythm. It is implanted under local anesthetic under the skin of the anterior chest wall. The pacemaker detects the electrical rhythm of the heart and will generate electrical impulses that pass along the lead to the heart to make it beat regularly if the heart tries to slow inappropriately.

Some cardiologists conduct research on the heart and its diseases, rather than work with patients on a day-to-day basis. Often these professionals also teach training cardiologists and medical residents. Accordingly, due to the growing prevalence of heart diseases, the cardiologists role as an educator has come into the forefront and it is important that they educate the general public about the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and taking good care of one's heart.
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  Interests and Skills  
Cardiologists are interested in helping people, first and foremost. They have the intellectual ability required to successfully complete the required academic training and to pursue a course of lifelong learning, and the stamina required to work long hours. They have excellent communication skills and can get along with people well and instill confidence. They will need emotional strength and maturity, and passion, empathy and energy.

Cardiologists should enjoy finding solutions to problems, dealing with people, and directing the work of others. They must also be proficient in medicine - they must have and apply the knowledge to diagnose illnesses. Also, ethics is a strong point for these types of people because they have to do what is right for their patients with their best interests in mind.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Diagnose and treat diseases of heart and its functions
  • Examine patients for symptoms indicative of heart disorders, using medical instruments and equipment
  • Implant pacemakers and other related devices
  • Study diagnostic images and electrocardiograph recordings to aid in making diagnoses
  • Prescribe medications and recommend dietary and physical activity programs
  • Cardiologists split their time seeing patients, performing administrative work and conducting research. They generally work long hours, about 50 to 60 per week. Therefore, they can be found in offices, in examination rooms and in the hospital or constantly travelling between these places.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Cardiologists work in hospitals, intensive care units, private clinics, universities and other research offices.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Cardiologists can learn new skills, add more patients, or change jobs. They may work as cardiovascular surgeons, directors of research, hospital administrators, medical school administrators, and teachers in medical schools and residency programs. They may manage clinics or do research for pharmaceutical companies. They may also write and publish in scientific and medical journals or take jobs in medical public relations.

  Educational Paths  
Becoming a cardiologist requires a long educational road, so be prepared for a lifelong learning experience. Most start with a Bachelor of Science degree, however some Bachelor of Arts graduates may be accepted into medical school programs. While in high school, take math and science classes. Also, not all medical schools require a bachelor's degree and with good marks, some students can get accepted after two years of undergraduate study. Check with the school for their requirements before applying.

The next step is medical school, which usually takes four years. Graduation from an approved medical school will result in the title Medical Doctor (MD). A six- to eight-year residency in specialized cardiology training follows medical school. There is at least three years of internal medicine and three more years in cardiology. Completion of the qualifying licensing examinations is required to practice medicine. Licensure by the regional licensing authority is required.

Finally, before entering medical school, volunteer in a hospital, nursing home or community center. This will give you valuable experience in dealing with people who need help and what it is like to work as a doctor.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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