How to Become an Endocrinologist

Endocrinologist taking ultrasound
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An endocrinologist is a specialized physician. Endocrinology is a subspecialty of internal medicine. In addition to understanding general medical treatment of the human body and primary care, endocrinologists complete additional training in treating the hormone system of the body, including ductless glands of internal secretion. Such glands include thyroid, adrenal, pituitary, pancreas, and glands in the reproductive organs of men and women.

Some of the most common issues that endocrinologists help to diagnose, treat or manage are diabetes, irregular metabolism, growth disorders in children, weight issues, hypo- and hyperthyroidism, and more.

Education and Training Requirements

Endocrinologists are physicians, and therefore they must obtain a medical degree (M.D., or D.O.) from an accredited medical school and complete all of the requirements to practice medicine as a licensed physician. In the United States that includes:

  • 4 years of undergraduate coursework resulting in a Bachelor's Degree.
  • 4 years of medical school resulting in a medical degree from an osteopathic (D.O.) or allopathic (M.D.) program.
  • 3 years of residency training in internal medicine.
  • 2-3 years of required fellowship training in endocrinology (and nutrition if a 3-year fellowship).

Licensing and Certification for Endocrinologists in the United States

Endocrinologists must complete the same credentialing as other physicians practicing in the United States. This includes passing all three parts of the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Exam), and obtaining a state medical license in the state he or she wishes to practice.​

Most practice opportunities will require an endocrinologist to be board certified in both specialties of Internal Medicine and Endocrinology.

In order to keep their license current, like all physicians, endocrinologists must successfully complete the required hours of continuing education (CME) and have their license renewed every 7-10 years depending upon state and specialty requirements. Also, the doctor must maintain an ethical standard of practice, as some disciplinary actions can cause a physician to lose his or her medical license if they are severe infractions.

Typical Workweek and Practice Characteristics

Most endocrinologists will work over 40 hours per week in a medical office setting primarily, as they do not perform many if any surgeries or invasive procedures. Endocrinologists conduct office exams and consultations with patients, order tests and interpret the results, and then decide on the course of treatment which may involve medication, dietary changes, or surgery. If the patient needs surgery, most likely the endocrinologist would then refer the patient to an appropriately trained surgeon to perform the operation.

Endocrinologists may be employed by a hospital or group, in a single- or multi-specialty practice, or they may own their own practice or be a partial owner of a group practice as opposed to being an employee.

Many of the patients treated by endocrinologists may be referred to the endocrinologist by another physician such as a primary care doctor, obstetrician/gynecologist, gastroenterologist, etc. Therefore, endocrinologists' work is very consultative in nature and they must be adept at working as part of a treatment team including other physicians, as well as nurses and allied health professionals.

Annual Income and Job Outlook for Endocrinologists

According to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) 2013 Physician Compensation and Production Survey, the average annual income for an endocrinologist is $241,565. However, compensation can vary widely from $186,000 at the 25th percentile of earners, to $356,000 at the 75th percentile.

As with all physicians, the outlook for endocrinologists is strong. According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly ten percent of all people in the U.S. have some form of diabetes, and many more are pre-diabetic. This, combined with the growth in the population, and the increasing age of the nation's population, will continue to drive demand for endocrinologists.

Additionally, because demand for primary care physicians is going to be extremely high in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, endocrinologists always have that as an option if for any reason they can't build a large enough practice of endocrinology patients solely. In other words, worst-case scenario, if demand were to diminish, which it is not expected to, endocrinologists could incorporate some primary care patients into their practices to help maximize their volume if needed.

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