An endocrinologist could...
|Help a couple who is having infertility problems to conceive a child, such as through in vitro fertilization.||Give a type 1 diabetic freedom from frequent insulin shots by transitioning them to an insulin pump.|
|Diagnose a child with a growth hormone deficiency and develop a treatment plan.||Use advanced imaging techniques to check a patient's hypothalamus for hypothalamic disease.|
Key Facts & Information
Hormones may be small, but they affect our bodies in huge ways. (For example, growth hormone can affect how tall someone grows, and how strong their bones are.) Endocrinologists know this well. Endocrinologists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions related to the endocrine system, which secretes small chemicals called hormones. Endocrinologists also investigate ways to improve diagnoses of and treatments for these conditions.
|Key Requirements||Strong observational skills, complex problem solving abilities, strong desire to help others, empathy, outstanding communication skills, and ability to interact well with other people|
|Minimum Degree||Professional degree (Doctor of Medicine, MD)|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, English; if available, computer science, physiology, biomedical science, statistics, foreign language|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||Faster than Average (14% to 20%) In Demand!|
Training, Other Qualifications
To practice as an endocrinologist, you must have eight years of education beyond high school, including medical school. This is then followed by five–seven years of training, specifically as a medical resident in a related discipline, and then a fellowship in endocrinology. In the United States, endocrinologists are board certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Internal Medicine or the American Board of Internal Medicine.
Education and Training
To become a board-certified endocrinologist, several requirements must be met:
- Four years of premedical education in a college or university.
- Four years of medical school resulting in an MD (Doctor of Medicine degree).
- Three or four years in a medical residency, typically in internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, or pediatrics.
- Two to three year fellowship in endocrinology, learning firsthand how hormone conditions are diagnosed and treated. An endocrinologist may receive multidisciplinary training or further specialize, such as in adult, diabetes-related, pediatric, or reproductive endocrinology. During this time, the person may also focus on either having a clinical or a research career.
People who want to become endocrinologists must have a desire to serve patients, be self-motivated, and be able to survive the pressures and long hours of medical education and practice. Endocrinologists must also have a good bedside manner, emotional stability, and the ability to make decisions in emergencies. Prospective endocrinologists must be willing to study throughout their career to keep up with medical advances.
Nature of the Work
An endocrinologist is a medical doctor who has been specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with conditions related to the endocrine system. The endocrine system is made up many different glands, such as the pituitary gland, thyroid, kidneys, reproductive glands, and others. These glands produce hormones, which are small chemicals that can have large, relatively long-lasting effects on the body.
An endocrinologist may specialize in a certain gland and its related conditions, or an endocrinologist may specialize in treating a group of individuals who often have similar endocrine-related conditions. To diagnose a patient, the endocrinologist talks to the patient to understand the symptoms and other possible complicating factors. Since an endocrinologist is a specialist, patients are often referred to an endocrinologist by their primary doctor, and so the endocrinologist often also has notes from the primary doctor to review and consider. Depending on the patient's condition, the endocrinologist may also perform additional tests on the patient and on fluid samples to diagnose their condition. Depending on the diagnosis, the endocrinologist may administer many different types of treatments.
Here are just some of the areas that an endocrinologist may specialize in:
- Thyroid: The thyroid is an endocrine gland in the neck that produces hormones to help regulate metabolism, weight, growth rate, and other functions. Hormone-related medical conditions can result if the thyroid is overactive, underactive, or being attacked by an autoimmune disorder (such as in Graves' disease). As one example of treatment, if a patient has an underactive thyroid, an endocrinologist may prescribe medications that replace the hormones. In addition to the thyroid, endocrinologists may specialize in other endocrine glands, such as the pituitary gland, parathyroid glands, adrenal glands, islets of Langerhans, and testes.
- Diabetes: A person with diabetes is diagnosed with blood glucose levels that are above normal, which is usually due to a problem with insulin (which is a hormone). An endocrinologist runs specific tests on a patient to diagnose them with diabetes and also looks for other symptoms related to the disease. After diagnosis, the endocrinologist may come up with a treatment plan for the patient that involves insulin injections.
- Pediatric care and growth hormones: Hormones play a large role in childhood development (and are also important for adults to be healthy). An endocrinologist may perform blood tests on a patient to check the levels of different growth hormones, ensuring the right amount is present. The endocrinologist may also ask for imaging of certain glands in the patient to be done. Treatment depends on the patient's specific condition but may involve administration of hormone supplements.
- Reproduction: For a woman or a man to be fertile, certain hormones should be produced by their reproductive organs. Different hormones and therapies may be administered to help a couple conceive, such as in in vitro fertilization.
Endocrinologists may work in a small practice or in a larger group, such as in a hospital. If an endocrinologist works in their own small practice, they may also handle the business aspects of their practice, such as managing a staff of nurses and other administrative personnel. If they are part of a larger group, they may actively involve themselves in collaborations with others in that group, such as by serving on committees (which are organized subgroups that meet regularly to make decisions about how to run different parts of the large group itself) or participating in large research projects. They may also work closely with other specialists—like surgeons—to treat patients, such as by developing a surgery treatment for a patient who has an endocrine gland abnormality.
Endocrinologists may travel between several different locations, including a hospital or other medical facility (where they work on a part-time or contract basis as a specialist), a lab (where they analyze biological samples from patients), and a private office (where they do paperwork, read up on research, and write up their own research findings). They often encounter stressful situations where they need to remain calm and keep patients calm.
On the Job
- Examine patients to obtain information about symptoms that can be correlated to a specific endocrine gland condition (in order to make a proper diagnosis).
- Understand and perform a variety of general laboratory techniques on blood samples and other fluid samples from a patient to make a diagnosis.
- Diagnose a patient with a thyroid condition, which may include performing specialized endocrinology clinical laboratory techniques such as a TSH, T4, and/or T3 test to check hormone levels, or scan the thyroid to look at its function by using a radioactive iodine uptake test.
- Diagnose a patient with diabetes, which may include performing relevant clinical laboratory techniques such as using different tests to check blood glucose levels (like plasma tests, fasting tests, or oral tests) and looking for other symptoms.
- Diagnose a patient with a growth-hormone-related condition, which may include performing several different types of tests, such as ones that look at the levels of various hormones (which are involved in height, headaches, blood pressure, cholesterol, insomnia, prediabetes, increased head size, cardiac dysfunction, and/or other functions), using an insulin-intolerance test, or working with another specialist to have magnetic-resonance imaging of certain glands (specifically the pituitary and hypothalamus glands) be done.
- Diagnose a patient who is having reproductive difficulties, which may involve performing specialized clinical laboratory techniques to check the hormone levels of the reproductive organs, such as a serum progesterone test, a follicle-stimulating hormone blood test, a clomiphene citrate challenge test, and/or a progestin challenge test.
- Work closely with a surgeon to develop a surgery plan for a patient.
- Apply knowledge of how age affects normal hormone production and related processes.
- Use an understanding of the biochemistry of how different hormones work in the body and how they can be affected by other hormones and medical drugs.
- After diagnosing a patient, develop a suitable treatment plan for their specific condition, taking all factors into consideration.
- Discuss a patient's diagnosis and treatment plan with them.
- Plan and supervise the work of the endocrinology staff, residents, and/or visiting endocrinologists.
- Train and direct staff and medical students in the proper methods needed to acquire and handle samples from patients.
- Conduct research and present scientific findings.
- Develop or adopt new tests or instruments to improve diagnoses of endocrine-related conditions.
- Educate physicians, students, and personnel in other medical laboratory professions, such as medical technology, surgery, and hematology.
- Counsel patients or others on the background of endocrine-related conditions, including risk factors and/or genetic or environmental concerns.
- Read current literature, talk with colleagues, and/or participate in professional organizations or conferences to keep abreast of developments in endocrinology.
- Review cases by analyzing laboratory findings or case investigation reports.
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Do you have a specific question about a career as an Endocrinologist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- Alyson, Jennifer. (n.d.). What Tests Does an Endocrinologist Perform? Houston Chronicle. Hearst Communications, Inc. Retrieved July 12, 2013.
- Mandal, Ananya. (n.d.). Endocrinologist — What is an Endocrinologist? News-Medical.Net. Retrieved July 12, 2013.
- Cedars-Sinai. (n.d.). Endocrinology Treatments and Programs. Retrieved July 12, 2013.
- Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Endocrinology. Retrieved July 12, 2013.
- O'Brien, Michael. (2008, May 24). 20 Questions: Lawrence Terra, MD [Reproductive Endocrinology]. The Student Doctor Network. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
- Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin. (2011). Diana Maas, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin Endocrinologist. Retrieved July 12, 2013.
- Community Health Network. (2009, December 11). Dr. David Carnovale, reproductive endocrinologist. Communityfertility.com. Retrieved July 12, 2013.
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