An estimated 18,000 cardiologists ply their trade in the US alone, with California and New York the top State employers of these internal medicine specialists.
A cardiologist’s lifestyle can be stressful and demanding but also rewarding. These doctors are some of the best-salaried in the country and, to some people at least, get to do very privileged work (focused on the most critical of human organs; the heart).
But from the early days in training, when you’re on call every other night, to the pressure of dealing with patients’ lives, it’s far from an easy lifestyle.
This article aims to take a closer look at the career and help answer some of the more common questions people have about it.
What is the schedule/lifestyle like of a general cardiologist?
General cardiologists’ schedules revolve around the care and diagnosis of patients with heart-related conditions like high cholesterol, hypertension, and those at risk of stroke or infarction. During their workday, they are responsible for conducting and managing various types of tests and procedures, including checking the heart for abnormalities in rhythm or any factors leading to disease (enlarged size/obstructions, etc).
Those working in cardiology are typically very busy (owing to the volume of patients with the above problems), but the job can be very varied.
Usually, differences in a cardiologist’s lifestyle come down to the following factors:
- Place of work (hospital vs clinic vs private practice)
- Salary (can vary greatly – more on this later)
- Size and availability of the cardiology team (enabling you to split nights/weekends and on-call)
The best place to get an insight into the lifestyle and schedule of a modern-day cardiologist is to attempt to shadow/observe one – check out out shadowing guides here.
The video below provides a neat insight into the day-to-day of a cardiologist…
What about interventional cardiologists?
If a general cardiologist is considered a “non-invasive” doctor, meaning they are not involved in surgery or endoscopic procedures, interventional cardiologists do exactly that.
These types of doctors use cutting-edge tech and new techniques to help patients with heart problems.
Typical daily activities of an interventional cardiologist include:
- Heart valve replacement and repair
- Cardiac catheterization
- Stent implantation
- Emergency and rescue procedures
- Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI)
Although they’re not cardiac surgeons, that’s a subspecialty of surgery, they’re working life comes a lot closer to it than a general cardiologist (except they work in cath labs rather than operating rooms).
Their lifestyle is also quite different because they’re not typically a part of an ongoing medical team. Instead, they are called in for one-time or occasional consults.
Training to become an interventional cardiologist is different too, with an extra 2-3 years required on top of the typical training route of a general cardiologist.
What is the cardiology fellowship lifestyle like?
Both general and interventional cardiologists undergo cardiology fellowships to qualify to work in the field.
These fellowships occur at the end of an internal medicine residency placement.
The training route looks like this:
- 4 years of medical school
- 3 years of internal medicine residency
- 3 years cardiology fellowship
As you can see, cardiology fellows have already spent a substantial (7 years) of their life in training before even beginning to specialize in the field.
For that reason, the lifestyle is best described as; the “long haul”. It takes years to reach maximum earning potential as a cardiologist or to enjoy the flexibility, prestige, and reputation (that are by no means guaranteed).
What does a typical week for a cardiologist look like?
Obviously, the above-mentioned factors mean there’s no “typical” one week for a cardiologist.
Many of the things that a cardiologist can expect to do during a working week, however, include:
- Daily clinic (seeing patients, diagnosing and treating, etc.)
- On-call (1-2 days including nights)
A cardiologist’s daily clinic usually runs from morning to early afternoon. Then, specifically for interventional cardiologists, procedures may begin and run anywhere until the end of a shift. Depending on the place of work, clinics can also run later or take up entire days.
General cardiologists might be doing things like observing echos and other diagnostic tests in between (or during) clinic time.
Did cardiologists have it better in the past?
There’s a lot of hearsay online from new and old cardiologists speculating that the role is not as attractive as it once was.
The main reasons for this include scope creep (other healthcare workers taking up many of the responsibilities and duties of a cardiologist – and charging for it), competition (driving procedure rates and potential earnings down on average per cardiologist), and projected salary decreases.
Reasons for the decrease are mainly down to fears over advanced technological innovations replacing much of what cardiologists are paid to do (diagnostics, procedures, etc).
Is cardiology a lifestyle specialty?
Definitely not. Cardiological emergencies are far more high-stakes than those in medical specialties like dermatology, radiology, etc. Cardiologists on-call are expected to attend to cases timely and methodically. There is next to no margin for error in heart-related diseases.
That said, it would be also unfair to suggest that the hours in cardiology are horrendous and that there’s a never-ending on-call list.
As we keep mentioning, this is all very case and place-dependent.
Are cardiologists happy?
The majority of cardiologists are happy with their lifestyle and career.
Those in private practice maybe enjoy more autonomy and flexibility than those in hospitals or clinics, but then miss out on greater security and the reduced stress of not having to run an individual business.
When factored into the profession as a whole, they report above-average levels of happiness compared to most other major jobs in the US (rating their career happiness 3.4/5 according to CareerExplorers survey).
Do cardiologists have a good work-life balance?
The work-life balance of a cardiologist is about the same as the average doctor working in other medical specialties. Full-time cardiologists (although there is an opportunity to work part-time) work anywhere between 40-60 hours per week and enjoy way above the national average salary (true for those in residency just as much as those certified).
What are burnout rates like?
Burnout and stress are often reported as negative factors that come as part of the cardiologist’s lifestyle.
According to a Cardiology Today survey, burnout rates are on the rise among cardiologists post-pandemic (projected to be occurring in 1 in 3 professionals).
Interestingly, burnout among US cardiologists is lower than the international rate.
What are some of the main advantages of being a cardiologist?
1. You save lives
Becoming a doctor is all about helping people, and cardiologists make a big difference in their patients’ lives. They help make an impact on an individual’s health and quality of living by treating them for heart disease or performing surgery.
As cardiac-related diseases are the biggest killer in the US (and most of the western world), that’s a lot of potential lives helped for the better.
2. Prestige and respect
Cardiologists are well-respected by their peers and community members because of their expertise and skillset.
Other medics know how competitive the specialty is, and the average patient knows just how important heart-related conditions (and their treatment) are.
Compared to other medical specialties, especially those the general public may not be too familiar with, it’s easy to understand what a cardiologist does.
3. Satisfying work environment
The work environment for a cardiologist can be very satisfying. Work can be based out of hospitals, clinics, and private practice offices. This makes for versatility and diversity – something that may not always be the case in other areas of medicine.
Cardiologists also work closely with other health professionals such as nurses and technicians. Thus improving the capacity for team-based care and leadership.
4. Continued education
Cardiology-related tech is a fast-growing field that boasts some of the most innovative technological developments in any field of medicine. From emerging electrocardiogram (ECG) technologies to pioneering stents and heart operation materials, it’s a really exciting area to be involved in.
Cardiologists will be at the forefront of the use of this new tech and continue to be important adopters.
That’s something that makes for an interesting lifestyle!
Tech aside, continued learning and education are a fundamental part of any health career. Cardiologists are just as expected to attend workshops and conferences, stay up to date on new scientific research and data, and apply the best of all that to their practice.
How much do cardiologists earn?
Cardiologist salary is high. According to experts at Weatherby Healthcare, cardiologists are among the five highest-paid physicians. In the US, they earn an average of $438,000 per year, and at the upper end can make as much as $800,000 per year.
According to Chron.com, cardiologists who specialize in invasive cardiology are the highest-earning cardiologists in the U.S., with a median annual salary of $404,688. 50 percent of cardiologists earn more than $404,688 a year, while 50 percent earn less.
Most invasive cardiologists earn between $335,841 and $504,458 annually. The top 10 percent of all invasive cardiologists earn an average of $595,293 per year, while the lowest 10 percent earn an average of $273,159 per year.
According to PayScale’s July 2, 2022 survey report, the median pay for a doctor in the United States was $326,592 per year. While according to the same survey report, cardiologists earned between the range of $120,000 – $603,000 per year — making them one of the highest-paid professions on PayScale’s list.
Healthy pay definitely makes the cardiologist’s lifestyle seem worth it!
Is the Cardiologist Lifestyle Worth It?
Depending on what you want to achieve in medicine and how well you value your time, yes training to be a cardiologist is worth it.
You’ll have great job security and independence, as well as high earning potential, all while making a significant difference in patients’ lives.
Hopefully, this article has helped unpick some of the mysteries around the profession and shed some light as to whether it’s the right medical job for you.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.