Endocrinologists treat patients who have medical conditions that affect the endocrine glands and the hormones produced by them. Some common conditions that endocrinologists treat include thyroid diseases, diabetes, infertility, hypertension, cholesterol disorders, osteoporosis and cancers in the endocrine glands. Because endocrinology is one of the more complex medical specialties, doctors in the field must complete a comprehensive education and training program, and many endocrinologists continue to conduct research even while treating patients.
Endocrinologists examine patients with suspected endocrine issues and review previous physicians’ notes and test results. Patients may suffer from diseases or dysfunctions of the pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, testes and ovaries. After conducting a physical exam and running lab tests, endocrinologists diagnose a patient’s illness and develop a course of treatment. In some cases, treatment may require surgery. Endocrinologists may also provide patients with information on diet, hygiene and other home treatments that will help manage their condition. Some endocrinologists also conduct clinical research in the hopes of developing new treatment methods. Others work at teaching hospitals or medical schools, where they teach students about endocrinology. Endocrinologists who operate their own practices must also perform business management and administrative duties.
Prospective endocrinologists must complete four years of undergraduate study. Many colleges and universities offer premedical programs for students planning to attend medical school, which usually include courses in biology, anatomy and organic and inorganic chemistry. After graduating from college, prospective endocrinologists must complete four years of medical school. In the first two years, students complete both classroom and laboratory work. They take classes in anatomy, microbiology, physiology, biochemistry, pathology and medical ethics. During the last two years of medical school, students work in a clinical setting where they treat patients at hospitals and clinics under the supervision of experienced doctors. After medical school, endocrinologists must complete an internship and residency in internal medicine; obstetrics and gynecology; or pediatrics. They must then complete another two to three years of training in the diagnosis and treatment of hormone-related diseases and disorders.
All doctors, including endocrinologists, must be licensed in the state in which they wish to practice medicine. To become licensed, endocrinologists must graduate from an accredited medical school and complete the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Many states issue licenses to doctors who are licensed in another state without requiring an examination, but some may require candidates to pass another licensing exam.
According to PayScale.com, the median annual salary for endocrinologists with less than a year of experience ranged from $95,000 to $170,000 as of June 2010. Those with five to nine years of experience earned between $150,000 and $192,746, while those with 10 to 19 years of experience earned more than $195,918.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment for physicians and surgeons, including endocrinologists, will increase by 22 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is a much faster rate than the average for all occupations. As both the population and health care field continue to expand, there will be increased need for physicians to treat patients. An increase in health issues related to the endocrine systems, including infertility and diabetes, will create a particular demand for endocrinologists.
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