Endocrinology is a specialized field of internal medicine that is primarily concerned with glandular disease and hormonal issues. Read about the career options for endocrinologists here, as well as how much education you'll need and how much you can earn as an endocrinologist.
Is Endocrinology Right for Me?
Endocrinology is the study of diseases and disorders that affect hormone-producing organs like the thyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands. As an endocrinologist, you'll diagnose and treat a variety of related diseases, such as diabetes and hypothyroidism. You may use laboratory tests to identify and correct hormone imbalances or research the causes of infertility. Additional specializations might include diabetes and metabolism, reproductive endocrinology or pediatric endocrinology.
Careers in endocrinology typically involve clinical practice, research or education. As a clinical endocrinologist, you'll diagnose and treat patients in hospitals, clinics and other healthcare settings. You might also pursue a postdoctoral position as a clinical research associate in an academic or medical lab, or teach in a medical school. Additional opportunities may be found in the medical industry, where endocrinologists work as consultants to biomedical and related companies.
Employment and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for physicians and surgeons were expected to increase by 18% nationwide, or faster than average, between 2012 and 2022. Positions in low-income and rural areas may be easier to come by; baby boomers with specialized health needs might have a positive effect on job growth. As of May 2013, physicians and surgeons in general earned a median annual salary of $187,199 or more. In July 2014, endocrinologists in particular earned a median annual salary of $203,861, according to Salary.com.
How Can I Become an Endocrinologist?
The minimum education requirement for an endocrinologist is a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree from a medical school that has been accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. Medical programs typically take four years to complete; prerequisites include undergraduate coursework in the biological sciences, chemistry, mathematics and physics. Once enrolled, you can begin to prepare for the 3-part United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) for medical doctors, a requirement for obtaining your state-issued license.
After earning your degree, you can begin postgraduate specialty training in a medical residency program, which can last anywhere from 3-8 years. Although endocrinology residencies are not usually offered, residencies in internal medicine, of which endocrinology is a subspecialty, are widely available. You may also be eligible to sit for the third and final part of the USMLE to earn medical licensure. Some states require candidates to complete their residency before qualifying for the third step, so be sure to check your state's licensing requirements.
As a licensed physician, you can pursue more in-depth training through an endocrinology fellowship, which lasts from 1-3 years. Areas of focus may include diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and reproductive gynecology. Completion of a fellowship enables you to pursue board certification in endocrinology through the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM). Though voluntary, board certification is a common credential held among physicians in internal medicine. In addition to becoming certified in internal medicine, you'll have to complete your fellowship training, earn medical licensure and pass the corresponding endocrinology exam (www.abim.org).
Ongoing professional development can be pursued through the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, which offers specialty certification, job postings and networking opportunities (www.aace.com).
If you'd rather work in research and education than in direct medical care, a few U.S. schools offer a Master of Science (M.S.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Endocrinology. The programs are also open to licensed physicians and students who hold a medical degree. Prerequisites are similar to what you might find in a Doctor of Medicine program and include undergraduate coursework in chemistry, biology and math. Most, if not all, master's and doctoral programs culminate in a thesis and a dissertation, respectively.