By Yolanda Smith, BPharm
An endocrinologist is a physician who specializes in the function of the glands involved in the production and release of hormones in the body, which regulate various processes such as metabolism and cell growth.
Such medical professionals deal with the symptoms, diagnosis and management of endocrine diseases, such as hypo- or hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus or obesity of certain types.
Endocrinology is both a challenging and rewarding medical specialty. Patients show great variety, both in terms of presenting illnesses, symptoms and response to medication. Thus there is a large body of specialized knowledge that an endocrinologist must be able to assimilate.
What does an endocrinologist do?
Endocrinologists have extensive knowledge about specific diseases that involve the endocrine system, such as:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Hypothyroidism/ hyperthyroidism
- Hormonal imbalances
- Severe obesity
- Cancers of the endocrine glands
Most of these disorders are chronic and require life-long care. Therefore, endocrinologists should have thorough knowledge and experience in managing the ongoing problems of their patients.
Their role includes ordering tests to diagnose and monitor the condition, as well as making the appropriate prescriptions decisions to achieve optimal health outcomes. Patient counseling and education is also an important and often time-consuming task, which is essential to ensure that patients understand their health condition, and how to follow treatment recommendations to manage their health.
Key skills that an individual aspiring to become an endocrinologist should possess include:
- Communication skills
- Attention to detail
- Leadership skills
- Organizational skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Information technology skills
- Physical stamina
These skills are critical for an endocrinologist to perform to the highest standard and meet the demands of a career as an endocrinologist.
Endocrinologists and other physicians usually work full-time, with many practitioners working in excess of 40 hours per week. They may work in a hospital, clinic or private practice. They sometimes work alone, but more frequently they work in multidisciplinary teams with other health professionals.
Clinical endocrinologists have significant contact with patients during consultations, which last on average between 15 and 25 minutes. For this reason, they are more likely to be affected by infectious diseases such as rhinitis and influenza than some other careers.
Study and Training Requirements
In order to be recognized as an endocrinologist, there are rigorous study and training requirements to meet. One may expect a period of study lasting at least 10 years to become a qualified endocrinologist.
Firstly, an individual must hold a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree and have completed three years of clinical residency satisfactorily, including passing the medical license exams. This must then be followed by additional study in a specialized area of endocrinology.
It is possible to be recognized as an endocrinologist with a formal board certification in endocrinology. However, unlike the medical license exams, this is an optional certification.
Salary and Prospects
In 2014 as reported by PayScale.com, the median salary for an endocrinologist in the United States was $179,434.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected job growth for physicians and surgeons is estimated to be 18%, which includes endocrinologists.
Given the median salary and projected job growth, a career as an endocrinologist is a promising field to study and practice.
Continued Education and Career Progression
Endocrinologists are required to continue learning and developing their professional skills throughout their career. They must show evidence of Continuing Medical Education (CME) to remain certified in the field.
There are various professional organizations such as the American College of Physicians (ACP) and university medical departments that offer CME opportunities. This is directed towards medical professionals including endocrinologists to continue their education and stay up-to-date with new research and recommendations.
Reviewed by Dr Liji Thomas, MD.
Last Updated: Jun 30, 2016