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How to Become a Cardiologist

March 14, 2022
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Introduction About Cardiology How Hard Is It to Become a Cardiologist?Is Cardiology Right for You? How to DecideBecoming a Cardiologist: Step-by-StepOther ConsiderationsFAQs: Becoming a Cardiologist

If a cardiologist is something you yearn to become, this article will provide you with all the information you’ll need to help you achieve your goal!


Your cardiovascular system is one of the most important parts of your body. Without it, survival would be nigh impossible. So, we wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to it. Nonetheless, we would have skilled cardiologists to help us if that happened. 

As defined by the American worldwide employment website, a cardiologist is “[a] highly trained and specialized physician who diagnoses, treats, and prevents diseases and conditions that affect the cardiovascular system.”

Cardiologists are experts in the cardiovascular system, making them experts when dealing with cardiovascular conditions and diseases. Without them, critical conditions such as heart failure, cardiac arrest, and stroke would be much more difficult to deal with, and your chances of surviving will be minuscule.

Cardiologists are an essential type of doctors with the power to save many lives using their knowledge and skills. Does being a cardiologist intrigue you? If so, this article will show you how to become a cardiologist, starting from high school graduation to the first day of work as a cardiologist! Let’s get right into it.

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About Cardiology 

Cardiology is a specialization within the medical field that focuses on the health conditions of the cardiovascular system. This system is responsible for the circulation and supply of blood to all different parts of the body and includes the heart and blood vessels.

It might sound simple, but the cardiovascular system is very important to maintain a vast majority of bodily functions. If something wrong happens within this system, the consequences are often life-threatening, with only a small window to deliver treatment. Common cardiovascular diseases include: 

You might notice that you’ve heard of these names many times before, even if you’re unfamiliar with cardiology. Unfortunately, these diseases and conditions listed above are not just deadly but also common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart failure is the number 1 leading cause of death for people in the USA, totaling a whopping 696,962 deaths. In addition, stroke is the 5th leading cause of death for people in the USA. 

As you can see, cardiovascular health is of paramount importance, and cardiologists play a significant impact in people’s health. Their ability to diagnose, treat and prevent cardiovascular diseases is severely needed.

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How Hard Is It to Become a Cardiologist?

Cardiology is one of the more difficult medical specializations;  the path to becoming a cardiologist is a long and challenging one. It requires many years of studying, training, consistent academic excellence, hands-on experience, and persistent dedication to become a cardiologist. 

Cardiologists have heavy responsibilities. Their jobs are to essentially find, treat and prevent cardiovascular problems or conditions, with various methods such as close inspection, communication, and performing examinations or diagnostic tests on patients, all of which require lots of professional knowledge and savviness. 

A cardiologist often makes important decisions that can have grave consequences. The cardiovascular system is very complex yet vital, and cardiologists often must deal with situations where someone’s life is on the line. One small mistake can cause severe health problems or even death. Due to such high responsibilities, the requirements for a satisfactory cardiologist are quite high. 

Therefore, you should expect difficult in-depth coursework, a heavy study load, and a plethora of challenging assignments and examinations during your studies. Cardiology is certainly not an easy subject either, so enduring effort and dedication are a must. But your academics are merely the foundation. You must also master the ability to apply what you’ve learned, as you must also pass a handful of examinations, certifications, and countless grueling years of hands-on training as well.

Furthermore, in addition to excellence in cardiology, being a successful cardiologist requires competence in a wide array of skills, such as:

You will need to develop these skills during your training years, which come after your education. Simply meeting requirements isn't enough; you must also excel in your duties to succeed. 

Is Cardiology Right for You? How to Decide

Deciding to pursue this career path is one that requires lots of careful consideration. The best way to confirm whether or not cardiology is meant for you is whether or not you’re truly interested. Interest in cardiology creates motivation and passion, and both can effectively fuel you to move forward, improve your performance, and you’ll be able to handle hardships better.

Are you interested in studying cardiology? Does the cardiovascular system evoke curiosity and make you want to learn more about it? Are you passionate about taking care of patients, curing fatal diseases, and saving countless lives? If you answered yes to the above questions, cardiology is right for you. 

Many cardiologist duties and tasks involve interacting and communicating with patients to diagnose and evaluate their conditions. If you’re someone who enjoys caretaking, being a good listener, and paying attention to people’s health and needs, this job can be very fun for you. 

Due to the long and extensive process of studying, training, and on-the-site work that cardiologists need to go through, cardiology is a very respected and high-paying field. Skilled cardiologists are also heavily appreciated for treating conditions and illnesses of patients, restoring their health, improving their quality of life, and most of all, saving their lives in the process. 

A job as a cardiologist is very financially rewarding. According to Cardiovascular Business, the average annual salary for a cardiologist in the USA is $454,000, which is the 7th highest amongst medical specialties. 

Another benefit of this specialization is that many cardiologists consider their jobs to be less stressful compared to other medical professions. This is because, as a cardiologist, most of your tasks are non-surgical procedures involving conducting tests, evaluating patients, and interpreting data. These are considered “non-invasive” tasks, meaning you don’t need to do any incisions on the patient’s body. Cardiovascular surgeries are done by cardiac surgeons instead of cardiologists. 

In essence, becoming a cardiologist is certainly not for the faint of heart, but once you do reach that goal, the rewards are plentiful. At the end of the day, you must consider the following questions: 

Becoming a Cardiologist: Step-by-Step

After confirming your genuine interest in cardiology, here is a list of  steps you’ll need to follow to become a cardiologist:

  1. Get a bachelor’s degree
  2. Complete the MCAT
  3. Enter medical school
  4. Pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) 
  5. Complete your residency
  6. Obtain a fellowship program
  7. Acquire Licensure
  8. Become Certified

To give you the best chance of success, let’s break all of this down step-by-step. 

Step 1: Getting a Bachelor’s Degree

Like any medical specialization, education is of utmost importance when pursuing cardiology. Even the most glamorous jobs have humble origins. To start, you need to complete your undergraduate education and get a bachelor’s degree in a field related to health or biology to be eligible for the next steps, such as studying in medical schools. 

A bachelor’s degree usually takes four years to complete, and it’s four years well spent. It will provide you with an invaluable opportunity to lay down the foundation of your career. There’s no need to rush this step. Take this time to develop your profile and prepare as much as possible  for the plentiful challenges in the years ahead. 

Of course, doing well in your courses is essential, not just for building up your knowledge and skills but also for increasing your chances of getting into medical school. Medical schools, especially good ones, are quite competitive. Therefore, you must ensure excellent academic performance and a top-tier GPA to maximize your chances of getting an offer of admission to medical school.

Once you’ve acquired your bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to continue your education in medical school. To be eligible for that, though, you’ll need to complete the Medical College Admission Test first.

Step 2: Pass the Medical College Admission Test 

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized test required by almost every medical school for admission. The test is composed entirely of multiple-choice questions, and the scores are calculated based on the number of correct answers, meaning that there are no penalties for guessing. MCAT test scores usually need to be less than three years old to be valid for medical school applications. 

Curious about what is on the MCAT? The exam covers the following four main topics:

Step 3: Complete a Medical School Degree Program 

As previously mentioned, a bachelor’s degree isn’t enough to become a cardiologist; you must also complete a degree in medical school, which will take an additional four years to complete in most cases. This is where the bulk of your studies in cardiology truly begin. 

The first two years are entirely classroom-based, where you will take advanced medical and health-related courses such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology, and maybe even psychology, just to name a few. You will also learn many standard medical terminologies, make effective medical decisions, and conduct various standard procedures, such as communicating with patients, reviewing medical history, and performing diagnostic tests and examinations.

You will also partake in supervised training in a real hospital in your last two years. This is where you will have the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned and start to gather some hands-on experience. You will participate in a rotation of different medical specialty areas, such as Internal Medicine, Obstetrics, and Gynecology.

Once you’ve finished that, you’ll get your Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree (or an equivalent). But before you graduate, you should complete the USMLE exam and apply for a residency program, as residency will be your next stop. 

Step 4: Pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination

During your time in medical school, it is strongly advised to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This is a three-step examination for medical licensure in the U.S, and each of these three steps is taken at three different points during medical school years. 

Step 1 of the USMLE is usually taken after your second year. The full testing session lasts eight hours and is divided into seven different 60-minute blocks. The amount of questions per block is different but will never exceed 40 questions. Step 1 will examine your understanding and ability to apply basic scientific concepts of medical practices. To do well in Step 1, you must have a solid foundation in safe, competent, and up-to-date medical procedures and medicine, as well as scientific principles, learned in the classroom.

Step 2 is usually taken during your last year in medical school before graduating and getting your MD. It lasts nine hours and is divided into eight different 60-minute blocks. Similar to Step 1, the amount of questions in each block is inconsistent but never exceeds 40 questions. 

Step 2 examines your ability to apply your medical knowledge, skills, and understanding of basic clinical concepts and practices to provide supervised patient care, emphasizing on disease prevention and health improvement. The content of Step 2 covers many different body systems, tasks, and competencies for physicians.

Step 3 is the final part of the USMLE exam. In addition to having your MD, you must also pass Step 1 and Step 2 to be eligible for Step 3. Step 3 is longer than the previous two steps; it contains multiple-choice questions, computer-based simulations and takes two days to complete.

Step 3 is almost entirely about your ability to apply your medical knowledge and understanding of standard medical and clinical concepts and procedures that are essential for the unsupervised practice of medicine. To do well in this section, you must deliver medical care independently and responsibly in a real, professional setting.

Once you pass this final step, you will be eligible to get a license, which is needed to practice medicine unsupervised in the USA. 

Step 5: Undertake a Cardiologist Residency

After medical school, you must complete a cardiologist residency. A residency is essentially postgraduate supervised training to let medical school graduates study by applying what they’ve learned in the classroom. 

Because cardiology is a subspecialty of Internal Medicine, prospective cardiologists will need to complete a residency program in Internal Medicine, which lasts for three years. You will practice many different internal medicine specialties, such as oncology, respiratory medicine, and gastroenterology. During your residency, you will also learn many general techniques in cardiology, such as: 

During your residency, you’ll build up your experience, skills, knowledge,  portfolio, and connections, which will be very important in your future years.

Step 6: Obtain a Fellowship Program

After you complete your residency, a cardiology fellowship program is the next step. This is another hands-on training session that is more advanced, with an in-depth focus on cardiology, and takes another three years to finish, but at this point, you’ve almost made it, so hang on!

During a cardiology fellowship program, you will work with physicians and learn about concepts, practices, and procedures specific to cardiologists through on-the-job training. Some of these procedures include:

You will also extensively learn about the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of various cardiac conditions, such as:

Your fellowship program is possibly the most important part of the preparation to become a cardiologist, as this is where everything comes together. You will build upon your knowledge and previous general training to gain an in-depth understanding of cardiology. And by the end of this fellowship program, you should have learned everything you need to become a cardiologist.

But there are still a few more things to do before you can truly begin your long-awaited career. Don’t worry though, because they won’t be too difficult.

Step 7: Get a License 

According to many health organizations, including the American Board of Internal Medicine, you must acquire a license to practice medicine without any supervision in the USA, and because cardiology is a subsection of internal medicine, no license means you can’t be a cardiologist. 

Fortunately, to get a license, all you need to do is to pass the USMLE, which, as previously mentioned, is done while you’re in medical school. Nonetheless, you are still eligible to take and pass this exam after you’ve graduated, as you are eligible to take the exam if you are enrolled in or a graduate of a US or Canadian medical school leading to an MD degree. However, If you are dismissed or withdrawn from medical school, you are no longer eligible for the USMLE.

Step 8: Acquire Certification

After completing all your training, cardiologists must be certified by taking an exam administered by the American Board of Internal Medicine. This exam tests your skills, knowledge, and understanding of cardiology and standard practices, procedures, and techniques that cardiologists must know. 

The exam has two components: the multiple-choice, and the ECG and imaging studies. The multiple-choice component examines your knowledge, identification skills, diagnostic reasoning, and judgment skills of many types of cardiovascular diseases, such as arrhythmias, coronary artery disease, and heart failure. Most of these questions describe realistic scenarios involving patients and ask you what should be done based on the information. 

The ECG and imaging studies component interpret and analyze data and informational material, and your ability to make decisions based on what you are given. Such data and material include:

Essentially, this examination assesses how good of a cardiologist you’ll become. Once you’ve been certified and gained both your licensure and doctoral degree, you have finished all needed education and training and have satisfied all qualification requirements to truly start your career as a cardiologist!

Other Considerations

We’ve covered the challenges and the benefits of the process to become a cardiologist, but there are still a few more factors you should consider.

Costs of Becoming a Cardiologist

As you’ve read previously, it takes a long time to become a cardiologist, and there will also be many costs to be covered.

First is your tuition. In most cases, you will need four years of undergraduate education and four more years of medical school education. The tuition varies depending on which school you go to. 

For reference, here are the median annual tuition for undergraduate biology and health studies programs as of 2022:


Additionally, according to the Tuition and Student Fees Reports done by the AAMC, the median annual tuition for medical school programs was 33,474 USD for residential students of public medical schools and 58,529 USD for residential students of private medical schools.

Another thing you should pay attention to is living expenses. This could include groceries, gas (if you have a car), rent, phone bills, health insurance, and more. How much you spend in your daily life depends on where you will finish your studies and training. 

Additionally, being a cardiologist requires you to pass at least two standardized extracurricular exams: the USMLE and the American Board of Internal Medicine’s certification exam. Both require a fee for every registration. As of 2022 January, for the USMLE fee, Step 1 and Step 2 both cost 985 USD for registration, while Step 3 costs 895 USD. Additionally, the Internal Medicine Certification Exam held by the American Board of Internal Medicine costs 1,430 USD. 

The above shows a rough scheme of all the fees you should consider. You should look into the details of your situation and always prepare for any additional spending that may occur. Fortunately, once you begin your training in residency and fellowship programs, you will start to get paid, so costs will be less of a concern when that time comes. 

Work Environment

Adapting to the work environment of cardiologists is very important. Cardiologists mostly work in a physician’s office, a clinic, or at a hospital. Most of their work can be done independently, but they will frequently work with patients, other physicians, and other medical professionals. 

Additionally, many cardiologists work full-time schedules and may participate in on-call rotations at times. The work schedule for cardiologists is fairly stable, although workload may fluctuate. 

Specializations and Advancements

During your studies, training, or even work, you can think about what you wish to specialize in.  Some popular specializations include pediatrics, interventional cardiology, cardiac imaging, but you can even be a cardiology educator at a university or academic hospital. Your specialization can affect your career path and how you advance, so it’s best to keep it in mind. 

FAQs: Becoming a Cardiologist

Do you still have more questions about how to become a cardiologist? We’ve outlined several questions and answers below to help you pursue cardiology. 

1. Are there any professional organizations for cardiologists?

Professional organizations can provide lots of help and support for both prospective cardiologists and working cardiologists. There are two main professional organizations in the USA: the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC).

2. What is the outlook of cardiologists?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, within the next decade, the overall employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow by 3%, and about 22,700 new openings for physicians and surgeons are projected each year, on average.

The “physicians and surgeons” here include cardiologists, but because of the vast amount of people affected, if not put at life-threatening risk by cardiac conditions, the demand for cardiologists in the future will likely be larger than the aforementioned numbers.

3. How many times can I take the USMLE exam?

A total of four attempts are allowed for each step of the USMLE. Any test-taker who has attempted any USMLE Step (including Step 2 CS) four or more times, and has not passed, will be ineligible to apply for any of the USMLE Steps.

4. Do I have to get a Bachelor’s Degree in biology or health?

No. There are no requirements for your Bachelor’s Degree. However, it is strongly recommended that you do get your Bachelor’s Degree in biology or health studies because you need a strong academic foundation in cardiology-related fields for the proceeding steps, especially medical school, which is challenging to get in due to the competitiveness. Therefore, you must use your undergraduate education to prepare for cardiology as much as you can.

5. What are some good medical schools for cardiology?

According to US News and World Report, the medical schools in the USA that offer the best programs in Cardiac and Cardiovascular Systems include:

Final Thoughts

The road to becoming a cardiologist is certainly a long and rigorous one. Expenses are heavy, and many challenges await you. But if cardiology is something that your heart truly yearns for, and you have both the necessary work ethic and grit, you will be heavily rewarded with an extremely respected profession. 

You will receive high compensation for your acquired knowledge and skill, but you will also have the opportunity to improve the living conditions and save the lives of countless individuals. Best wishes on achieving your goals!

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