An endocrinologist is a medical specialist who diagnoses and treats hormone and glandular abnormalities. The endocrine system is comprised of the body’s glands that produce a person’s hormones. They specialize in treating any abnormality or medical illness that is associated with the pituitary, adrenal, and thyroid glands, as well as the pancreas, testes, ovaries, and any other related symptoms.
Why Become An Endocrinologist
Being an endocrinologist is a challenging, yet rewarding occupation. Not only is this a high-paying profession, but it is a growing occupation with a good future outlook. Endocrinologists solve complex issues that require their specialty knowledge and expertise. They help people obtain and maintain a better quality of life through treatments for sexual hormones, pregnancy issues and infertility, diabetes, metabolism, osteoporosis, and more.
Endocrinologists are skilled professionals, who use many modalities to diagnose and treat patients. They must be effective communicators, problem solvers, and empathetic physicians.
Endocrinologist Work Environment
Because many problems exist in the study of endocrinology, physicians who choose this field can work in various capacities. If you choose to be a clinical endocrinologist, then you will see patients in a private practice (group or solo) or hospital setting. Some may choose to work in teaching hospitals, where they instruct and supervise medical students. Another option is to become a medical researcher on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions, or public research organizations. For those with an interest in the business aspect of medicine, one could direct or manage medical facilities that treat patients. It is possible for an endocrinologist to work in various settings, conducting research while treating patients or teaching.
As of March 2015, the median annual salary for an endocrinologist was $205,871. While this salary is much higher than the typical profession, it is one of the lowest in terms of medical specialists. Salaries vary depending on geographical location and place of business; endocrinologists tend to make more in the Southeast and North Central regions of the United States. Endocrinologists working solo in a private practice typically make the most, while those working as independent contractors or in hospitals seem to make the least. About 9% of top doctors in this field make over $300,000 annually, while the bottom 17% will make just under $100,000.
Endocrinologist Career Outlook
Physicians and surgeons will see an 18% increase in job growth from 2012-2022, but endocrinologists may benefit more than most specialties because of the projected increase of diabetes. From 2000 to 2050, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that diabetes cases will increase 165%. Thyroid cancer is also one of the fastest growing cancers among women diagnosed with cancer. Between these health issues and advancements in fertility, endocrinologists will typically find gainful employment.
A person interested in this field must obtain a Doctor of Medicine degree (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree (D.O.), as well as licensure to practice as an endocrinologist. In all, it can take about 14-15 years to become a trained and licensed endocrinologist.
Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree. The objective of an undergraduate degree for an endocrinologist is to prepare for medical school. Science-based courses are recommended, such as biology and chemistry. These courses will prepare a pre-med student for the M-CAT (Medical College Admission Test). Students must pass this exam to get into medical school. Mathematics, humanities, and English will also be beneficial courses for an endocrinologist, who is expected to communicate well and express empathy to their patients.
Because admissions into medical school are highly competitive, it may be beneficial to volunteer at local hospitals and clinics to standout as a candidate.
Step 2: Earn a degree in medicine. Anyone seeking to become an endocrinologist must receive an M.D. or D.O. from an accredited medical school. The first two years are typically dedicated to coursework, including medical ethics and laws, biochemistry, anatomy, and pharmacology. During the final two years of training, medical students perform “clerkships”, dedicated to various specialties. Endocrinology is a study of internal medicine, and these two years are meant to prepare students for future residencies.
Step 3: Become licensed. Not all residencies will require a licensure to practice, but many at least require a degreed doctor to begin the process of becoming licensed. Each state will have its own requirements, so make sure to check with each state medical board. M.D.s will take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), and D.O.s will take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).
Step 4: Complete a residency program. To become an endocrinologist, a doctor must complete a 3-year, post-doctoral residency in internal medicine. Residents can work in a variety of facilities, including clinics, hospitals, or other settings where they will directly diagnose and treat patients. This work is done under the supervision of a board certified physician. Residents also have the option to conduct research, and participate in advanced clinics and patient assessments.
Step 5: Become board certified in internal medicine. Residency training is followed by board certification in internal medicine, awarded through the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM). To receive this certification, one must pass the Certification Examination in Internal Medicine, as well as exhibit skills in procedures specific to internal medicine.
Step 6: Finish a fellowship for endocrinology. A doctor who is board certified in internal medicine can go on to complete a 2- to 3-year fellowship in endocrinology. The fellowship is similar to the residency, except that the focus is on the endocrine system and treating patients with associated issues. During this time, doctors of internal medicine will work with patients under the supervision of a board certified endocrinologist. Specific areas of clinical work may include treating patients with fertility and reproductive issues, diabetes, or groups of patients, such as pediatrics or geriatrics. In addition to their rotation work with patients, they may also teach medical students, conduct research, and assist patients in testing centers.
Step 7: Become board certified in endocrinology. To become board certified in endocrinology, one must pass the Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism Exam, which the ABIM administers.
Beyond this final step, it is necessary for all doctors, including endocrinologists, to continue their education to stay relevant in their respective fields. For endocrinologists, licensure renewal for internal medicine is not a requirement as long as they complete the requirements for the renewal of their endocrinology licensure. Training and professional development through approved Continuing Medical Education (CME) will help them maintain their license.