If you'd like to make a positive impact on the health and well being of people whose lives are affected by illness of the cardiovascular system a career in cardiology may suit you

Cardiologists are doctors that go on to specialise in diagnosing, treating and preventing diseases that mainly affect the heart and blood vessels. As a cardiologist, you can work with a range of patients, from babies and young infants through to the elderly.

You'll typically work with patients to treat ongoing, long-term illnesses or will respond to emergency, potentially life-threatening situations. Some of the diseases you will encounter include high blood pressure, angina, heart disease, heart failure, cardiac arrest and coronary heart disease.

Types of cardiology

You have the opportunity to become a general cardiologist or to specialise in a specific area. General cardiologists diagnose and treat diseases of the blood vessels and heart and also have an interest in the prevention of disease.

The cardiology sub-specialty is stroke medicine but many cardiologists choose to develop their role in areas of sub-speciality interest, such as:

  • interventional - performs advanced cardiac procedures such as stent placements in closed or diseased arteries, atheroectomy, and balloon angioplasty
  • electrophysiology - works with the bio-electric impulses of the heart to help identify and treat problems, such as irregular heartbeats, through medication and invasive procedures
  • transplant - works with patients who are in need of, or who are recovering from, a heart transplant
  • cardiac imaging - reads and interprets a range of tests and images that can be run on the heart, including echocardiograms, MRI scans and cardiac CT scans
  • heart failure - supports and treats patients with heart failure
  • paediatric - works with children who suffer from a variety of heart problems.

If you're more interested in the science behind cardiology, you could pursue academic opportunities in the field of research.

Responsibilities

As a cardiologist you can expect to:

  • treat patients by reviewing and understanding their medical backgrounds and examining them to assess their current condition and health
  • look at and employ ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating a range of heart-related problems
  • carry out tests such as echocardiograms and interpret test results to measure how effectively the heart is working, which will help you to decide on the best method of treatment
  • perform specialist procedures, such as coronary angiography, to help treat cardiac diseases
  • prescribe medication to patients to help treat a range of cardiac illnesses
  • provide ongoing support and advice to patients under long-term care
  • work effectively in a multidisciplinary team, collaborating and liaising closely with colleagues
  • provide support and advice to colleagues working in other specialities
  • practise governance and audits within your department
  • complete administration, which can include anything from accurately recording patient interventions and referrals to overseeing budgetary information
  • teach and provide educational support and training for junior staff
  • carry out clinical research in your area of interest
  • be at the forefront of trialling breakthrough treatments and medication developed by pioneering research.

Salary

  • Junior hospital trainees can expect to earn £26,614 (Foundation year 1), rising to £30,805 (Foundation year 2). As a trainee doctor you'll receive a basic salary, plus salary enhancements for any hours which can be classed as unsocial.
  • Salaries for qualified doctors starting specialist training (early career cardiologist) begin at £36,461, rising to £46,208 as training progresses.
  • A speciality doctor (senior cardiologist) can expect to earn a basic salary of £37,923 to £70,718.
  • As a consultant cardiologist your basic annual salary will range from £76,761 to £103,490, with the opportunity to earn more if you have additional managerial or educational responsibilities. You can also add to your basic salary by taking on work in private practice in addition to your NHS contracted hours.

Income data from NHS Health Careers. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Cardiologists often work irregular hours as they're frequently on call. You need to be flexible as hours can be long and short-term contracts are common during core and speciality training.

Cardiologists typically spend between 40 and 50 hours per week with patients. Completing the paperwork associated with your patients' treatment can add to your already long hours.

Part-time cardiology opportunities are quite common, but career breaks less so as staying up to date with the latest medical treatments and regulations in your area is essential to your practice. This depends, however, on each individual employer.

What to expect

  • Working as a cardiologist requires high levels of skill, knowledge and resilience. The work can be extremely pressurised and time-critical (for example, carrying out surgery or emergency situations), and you'll often work long hours in an extremely busy environment.
  • As a practitioner, you'll usually be based in a hospital. Cardiologists following an academic or research career are more likely to be based in a lab environment.
  • As women are currently under-represented at consultant level, organisations such as the British Cardiovascular Society are actively looking to increase the numbers of women training in cardiology.
  • Cardiology is likely to take you to some emotional highs and lows. On the one hand, you can be working with patients in some very difficult medical situations such as end-of-life care, but on the other, you can be helping people recover from potentially life-threatening illnesses and saving lives.
  • Cardiology is one of the most competitive areas of medical specialism, which means that although cardiologists generally enjoy good job security, you're not always guaranteed a position. In some areas of sub-specialty interest, for example, there may be an oversupply of cardiologists.

Qualifications

You need to be prepared to work hard and to train for between eight to ten years to qualify.

First you'll need to complete a degree in medicine recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC). This usually takes five years to complete, although if you've already got a degree in a subject other than medicine (normally a 2:1 or above in a science-related subject), you can apply for a four-year accelerated medical graduate trainee programme (also known as the Graduate Entry Programme).

Following a degree in medicine, you'll go on to complete a two-year Foundation Programme in internal medicine, common to all medical graduates, where you'll work in hospitals as a junior doctor on a rotational basis in different departments. Try, if possible, to do rotations in areas relevant to cardiology such as diabetes and endocrinology. On successful completion, you'll be awarded a Foundation Achievement of Competency Document (FACD).

At this stage you must complete general medical training, which consists of either a two-year core medical training (CMT) programme or a three-year acute care common stem (ACCS) programme.

Having finished this training (or typically during the last year), you'll be able to apply to complete your ST3 (higher speciality training) to make the progression from trainee to consultant. At the end of this training you'll receive a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) and will be eligible for entry on to the GMC specialist register in cardiovascular medicine.

See hospital doctor for full details on the qualifications and training required to be a doctor.

Skills

You'll need to be:

  • able to make quick decisions and remain calm in stressful situations
  • focused on attention to detail in mentally complex situations
  • comfortable working in a fast-paced and pressurised environment
  • a good problem solver with an analytical mind
  • an excellent communicator who is able to understand and empathise with your patients and colleagues
  • confident in your skills, knowledge and ability
  • assertive and a good motivator and leader
  • an excellent team worker
  • persistent in the face of challenges
  • emotionally resilient when working in challenging situations.

Work experience

To show your commitment to the long qualifying period, everyone wishing to complete a medical degree is expected to do some work experience before applying. This work experience could be based in your local hospital, doctor's surgery, nursing home or mental health trust and will help you to understand some of the physical and emotional demands of working in medicine.

Some teaching hospitals also offer work experience in their cardiology departments, specifically for secondary school students who are interested in a medical degree and a career in cardiology. This can be a great way to gain insight. Applications usually open in November of each year (but check with your local hospital as application dates can vary.)

Employers

The largest employer of cardiologists is the NHS, although there are also opportunities in private clinics, universities and academic institutions, the armed forces and national governing bodies.

Academic cardiologists can also expect to find positions within the NHS, universities, academic institutions and the private sector (such as large medical health and pharmaceutical companies.)

As a cardiologist you'll also have excellent opportunities to work abroad.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies also handle vacancies for doctors.

Look for training posts at:

Professional development

As a junior cardiologist, you will have an educational supervisor and may find it helpful to work with them to create your own specific professional development plan. The onus is very much on you to progress your career around areas of particular interest that you develop through your training.

You'll be expected to continue learning and developing throughout your career. This is essential given the rate at which medical developments and scientific research lead to changes in all aspects of medicine, and is essential for remaining on the GMC register.

This learning can take many different forms, including undertaking a piece of relevant research or attending developmental activities such as conferences, exchange events, workshops or training courses. Further information on professional training and development is available from the British Cardiovascular Society.

Career prospects

As a recently qualified junior cardiologist, you'll continue to grow and develop into your role with help from your supporting educational supervisor. Your experience will build as you take on more duties and you'll begin to understand more about which area, or which combination of areas, you would like to work across more specifically.

After a few years, as you progress to become a senior cardiologist, you will continue to develop your chosen areas of specialty, and will also have the opportunity to develop your leadership and management skills.

Cardiologist consultants generally choose to continue extensive training in additional specialities, which means that as you progress to this position you can expect to receive high salaries and have more opportunity to take on senior-level management roles within hospitals.

As an academic cardiologist, you'll have the opportunity to engage with pioneering research, which can have a significant impact in the field (this could be prevention, intervention, medical or surgical). You will develop both your research and teaching skills, with the opportunity to blend academia and education within your portfolio.