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A pediatric cardiologist is a doctor specializing in heart disease in children. These doctors spend the bulk of their time working with children who have congenital heart defects (CHDs), but they treat some of the acquired heart diseases that occur during childhood. As with many pediatric specialties, it takes considerable devotion, time, and effort to become a pediatric cardiologist.
To become a pediatric cardiologist, an individual obtains an undergraduate degree and attends medical school. Medical school is followed by a three-year residency in pediatrics and a three-year fellowship in pediatric cardiology, adding up to 14 years of training prior to board certification. This path is different than one to become an adult cardiologist, as adult cardiologists don’t complete pediatric residencies and focus principally on acquired adult heart disease. With the growing success of surgical interventions for children with serious heart defects, there is developing integration of the two fields, and some pediatric cardiologists are now specializing in working with adults with congenital heart disease. Cardiologists could also study CHDs to serve an increasing adult population with them.
A pediatric cardiologist might take interest in subspecialties in this field. Some doctors perform interventions and screening with catheterizations. Others use advanced echocardiograms, like transesophageal echocardiograms or fetal echocardiograms for higher level diagnostics. Electrophysiology, another subspecialty, evaluates the heart’s electrical system and employs interventions to restore rhythm. Most pediatric cardiologists are able to perform basic catheterizations, electrical studies, and echoes, but they defer to colleagues with more experience when tests or interventions required are more complex.
One subspecialty area not included in pediatric cardiologist's field is pediatric cardiothoracic surgery. While surgeons and cardiologists typically work closely together in determining patient treatment, their modes of study to arrive at their separate careers are quite different. A pediatric cardiologist is not a surgeon, but will help to determine surgical options, provide before and after care for patients, and be the main doctor who cares for children who have had surgical interventions.
Heart defects are the most common congenital defects, affecting about eight in 100 children born. Many defects are minor and never require surgery, but kids may still need periodic checks with a pediatric cardiologist to determine that health remains good. Most children will have to visit a major hospital to see a pediatric cardiologist, since many of these doctors work in tertiary hospitals with a full complement of pediatric specialists.
Pediatric cardiologists see many patients only once and can rule out possibility of heart defects or heart problems by their examinations. Other times they’ll get to know children extremely well, following them through childhood, and sometimes retaining them as adult patients if they have complex heart problems. The field is an exciting one where refinements in surgical and intervention technique have led to improved survivability of some of the most difficult defects and conditions. It continues to be characterized by an optimism regarding what doctors may be able to do today and also about the ways future developments will lead to improved patient care.