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Cardiologist vs. Pulmonologist: 5 Key Considerations for Choosing the Medical Specialty that’s Right for You

Cardiologist vs. Pulmonologist

Selecting a medical specialty is one of the most important and personal decisions you’ll make as a future physician.

Two popular specialties, cardiology and pulmonology, offer rewarding and promising careers. While there are some similarities, there are also many differences between the two career paths.

Let’s take a closer look at how the two compare in areas of expertise, educational requirements, job outlooks, salary, and day-to-day life as a physician.

Cardiologist vs. Pulmonologist

Having trouble determining which medical specialty is right for you? Here are four key considerations in choosing between a career as a cardiologist or pulmonologist.

Area of Expertise

The biggest difference between cardiologists and pulmonologists is their area of expertise.

Cardiologists focus on the heart and blood vessels. As a cardiologist, you will help patients prevent or manage conditions related to the heart such as high blood pressure, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy, heart attack, and much more.

On the other hand, pulmonologists treat conditions of the lungs. Pulmonologists may also address other areas of the respiratory system including the nose, throat, trachea, and airways. Common conditions a pulmonologist might encounter are asthma, bronchitis, sleep apnea, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), emphysema, and other lung diseases.

A primary care physician often refers patients to one or both types of specialists if they present with symptoms of underlying heart and/or lung conditions. Though these physicians specialize in different areas of the body, it’s common for cardiologists and pulmonologists to collaborate in diagnosing and treating patients. For example, conditions of the heart and lungs often mimic each other. Additionally, conditions affecting the heart can cause issues in the lungs, and vice versa.

For these reasons, many hospital systems in Connecticut take a multidisciplinary approach to patient care when it comes to the crossover of conditions requiring cardiology and pulmonology care.

Education

The path to becoming either type of specialist begins the same. To become a pulmonologist or cardiologist, you must first earn a four-year college degree followed by a four-year medical school program.

To become a pulmonologist, you’ll need to undergo residency in internal medicine, which is typically three years. Finally, after residency, you’ll go through a two or three year fellowship program in which you’ll receive more specialized training in pulmonology.

To become a cardiologist, you’ll also move into a three-year residency in internal medicine. You’ll then undergo a three-year fellowship program, and additional time as a fellow if you wish to sub-specialize in an advanced cardiology subspecialty.

To practice either specialty in Connecticut, you’ll need to apply for a physician’s license. The medical school you attended must be accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and you must have proof of a residency program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). You’ll also need to choose between a number of qualifying licensing exams before becoming officially board certified.

Day-to-Day Life

Though cardiologists and pulmonologists focus on different body systems, their day-to-day lives are similar.

Both types of specialists may work independently within a private practice, at a medical group, or at one or more hospital systems. With both careers, no two days will look exactly the same. Life as a cardiologist or pulmonologist can be hectic, with on-the-go schedules requiring travel and time on their feet.

Work schedules for both specialists depend largely on the conditions of their patients. Shifts may begin with regular business hours, only to extend or change when there’s an emergency requiring their attention. Because of this, hours for both pulmonologists and cardiologists are often irregular, and occasionally include evenings, weekends, or holidays—especially when on-call at a hospital.

Job Outlook in Connecticut for Physicians

Across the United States, the job outlook for both pulmonologists and cardiologists is high.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports a potential shortage of 120,000 cardiologists by 2030. Likewise, the demand for pulmonologists is growing as more than 70 percent of pulmonology physicians are 55 or older. A retiring workforce, aging population, and complications of a pandemic are driving these changes.

With Connecticut ranking 14th overall in population of residents 65 or older, the job outlook for both careers is high. As the state’s population age and age-related heart and lung conditions become more prevalent, a future need for cardiology or pulmonology care is certain.

Salary

If you’re looking for a lucrative career in addition to a rewarding one, careers in both cardiology or pulmonology will provide all of the above.

According to the Economic Research Institute, a cardiologist’s salary in Connecticut ranks higher than most states, with an average of $437,616 per year. While the average salary for pulmonologists in Connecticut is slightly lower, it still ranks higher than most averages across the country at $400,179 per year.

Join PACT

Physicians Alliance of Connecticut (PACT) is a multi-specialty medical group led and operated by over 30 physician partners and more than 100 healthcare providers. We are committed to healthcare excellence, innovation, safety, and quality in a private-practice setting in Connecticut.

If you’re a current or future healthcare provider and want to share in the PACT vision of delivering patient-centered and innovative healthcare, apply to one of our open jobs today.

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