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The connection between internal medicine and cardiology is an inclusive one, because cardiology is a subspecialty under the discipline of internal medicine. Cardiology deals with cardiovascular disease, which includes conditions that affect the heart, blood vessels, blood circulation and occasionally lung function. The practice of internal medicine focuses on adult medicine, such as the treatment and prevention of adult diseases, including cardiovascular disease.
Internal medicine primarily focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of diseases that affect internal organs. These organs include the heart, lungs, kidneys, digestive organs and blood-forming organs. Doctors called internists who specialize in internal medicine can choose a medical specialty from a list of various options, including cardiology. Internists frequently treat adult patients who have multi-system diseases, such as combined diseases of the heart and lungs.
A cardiologist is an internist who has chosen to focus on the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular conditions include congenital heart defects, coronary heart disease and heart failure. Cardiologists usually treat heart conditions without performing surgery, using blood counts, X-rays and urinalysis to diagnose the condition and medicine, diet and exercise to treat it. If a patient requires surgery, he or she consults with a cardiac surgeon rather than a cardiologist.
To become a cardiologist, the future internist needs to study both internal medicine and cardiology. Students typically attend medical school for seven years to complete general medical training, then do postgraduate studies to become board-certified in internal medicine. Graduates then typically serve an internship in a clinic or hospital for one or two years, after which they go on to study conditions of the heart for about three to five years to become a qualified cardiologist.
Another connection between internal medicine and cardiology is that a hospitalist might treat a patient who has cardiovascular disease in a hospital. Hospitalists are board-certified internists who have chosen to work primarily in a hospital environment. Hospitalists care on a daily basis for patients who have complicated conditions, and they specialize in this aspect of adult medicine instead of choosing a medical specialty area.
Physicians who are qualified in internal medicine and cardiology can obtain certification from a governing body. Certification requires the physician to complete an exam and to fulfill the necessary requirements to maintain certification. This provides controls that ensure the quality of care available in the field of adult diseases and ensures that internists have the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to excel in their chosen medical specialty.