Is Cardiology the Right PA Specialty for You?
Cardiology is an exciting and rapidly evolving field of medicine. As America ages, the roles of a PA-C in cardiology continue to expand. They can be found in an office, hospital, and operating room, working in both adult and pediatric care. So whether ECGs excite you or send you running for help, cardiology can still be the right choice for you! The opportunities are endless.
What do cardiology PA-Cs do?
Cardiology PA-Cs can be generally focused in an outpatient setting managing cardiac risk factors such as hypertension and hyperlipidemia. But they can also do more specific work such as managing advanced heart failure patients on home inotropes.
If you’re interested in the surgical route, this does not always mean you will spend all or even any of your time in the OR. Cardiothoracic PAs can be found admitting and discharging patients to the hospital, doing outpatient surgical follow-ups, prepping patients for the OR, harvesting veins, placing and pulling chest tubes and pacer wires, and providing education for LVADs and heart transplant. Interventional cardiology PAs can be found rounding on the patient list, administering stress tests, and even assisting in the catheterization lab.
If you prefer more of a jolt in your job, you may find electrophysiology exciting. EP PAs can be found in the outpatient clinic running device clinics and clinic appointments, as well as assisting ablation procedures inpatient. If you ever need help with the ECG, the EP PA has your back!
I work on the inpatient side of cardiology in advanced heart failure and heart transplant medicine. What I love most about this specialty is that I specialize in cardiology but I still get to do a lot of medicine. Once a heart has been transplanted, there are many new problems that can occur and require medical management.
What kinds of patients do cardiology PA-Cs see?
For each scenario above, PAs can be found in the adult and pediatric realm. If you love working with patients with congenital heart anomalies, there is a job for you. Opportunities also exist in hospitals to see patients in the general and intensive care units. Some jobs will require you to cover both general medical floors and intensive care units.
Almost every specialty will rely on a cardiology PA-C at some point. Some examples of patients you might encounter include one requiring surgical clearance, a postoperative patient who has a myocardial infarction or dysrhythmia, and even a patient with a cardiomyopathy following infection or chemotherapy.
What are the hours, and how much do cardiology PA-Cs make?
Most cardiology PAs work 20–60 hours per week depending on the chosen specialty. I love the flexibility of hours in inpatient cardiology, which for me means working several night shifts in a row to have better time freedom. Also, because of the flexibility in hospital and outpatient options, many PAs can work more than one job if desired or can work inpatient and outpatient teams for the cardiology service. Some jobs will also have on-call hours. Salaries vary according to acuity, responsibility, and experience, but most cardiology PAs make between $80–140k per year.
How can a PA student get cardiology experience?
If this sounds like an interesting career path, try to get an elective in cardiology. Also, if you have access to a cardiology consult service, try to shadow on your days off. This way PA school will prepare you to walk out with confidence as a cardiology PA-C (after you complete your PANCE review of course).
When I was a student I did an elective in the intensive care unit, and on my own time I worked with a cardiologist. This helped me secure my first job in general medicine at that same hospital. I also moonlighted in the ED and consulted for that same cardiologist. I quickly moved into a pulmonary/intensivist group, which gave me a lot of exposure to medical, surgical, neurological, trauma, and cardiac intensive care units. It didn’t take me long to learn that cardiology was involved in all specialties. Later, after doing interventional cardiology, electrophysiology, and cardiothoracic ICU, I went into advanced heart failure and heart transplant medicine.
So if a patient in chest pain makes your heart race, ECGs make sense, and the opportunity to take care of kids and adults and work inpatient or outpatient appeals to you, you might want to pursue a career as a cardiovascular PA-C!
Let us know why you chose cardiology as your specialty.
Dawn Miller, PA-C
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Is this the right PA specialty for you? is a series that provides practical advice from PA-Cs for students and individuals looking for their right fit.