Cardiology treatment team

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Learn about cardiology treatment teams, which focus on treating children with heart conditions. The specific role of each team member is discussed.

Key points

  • There are three kinds of heart specialists: cardiologists, paediatric cardiologists, and cardiovascular surgeons.
  • A heart specialist, or staff doctor, will always look after your child.
  • Your child may encounter be seen by medical students, interns, residents, or fellows.
  • A paediatric cardiologist specializes in heart problems in children and helps prevent and treat heart conditions
  • A cardiovascular surgeon is a medical doctor who operates on heart and blood vessels.
  • To be a specialist a doctor must do a residency and rotate through different areas within their specialty.

If your child has a heart condition, there will be several doctors involved in their care. This page explains the role of each health professional on a cardiology treatment team.

There are three kinds of heart specialists: cardiologists, paediatric cardiologists, and cardiovascular surgeons. After medical school, they spend about 6 to 8 years in specialty training, depending on their area of focus. Each role involves varying degrees of training and research. In order to be fully qualified, these specialists must finish all their training and take special exams.

Cardiologists, paediatric cardiologists, and cardiovascular surgeons on the staff of a hospital are referred to as staff doctors. There is always a staff doctor responsible for your child's care.

If your child is being treated at a teaching hospital, you and your child will also encounter doctors in training. These are medical students, interns, residents, or fellows, depending on what stage they have reached in their education.

This may seem like a lot of doctors involved in your child's care. But having trainees in a hospital keeps the quality of care high. Staff doctors have to be knowledgeable about new ideas in their field to stay ahead of the trainees.

Cardiologist and paediatric cardiologist

What is a cardiologist?

A cardiologist is a doctor specializing in heart problems. A paediatric cardiologist is a cardiologist who specializes in heart problems in children. These doctors are involved in preventing and treating heart conditions. They manage patients with congenital heart defects, heart infections, heart arrhythmias, heart-related syndromes, and other heart problems.

When might your child be referred to a cardiologist?

Your child would be referred to a cardiologist through a family doctor or paediatrician. In emergency situations, your child would be referred to a cardiologist through the emergency room doctor. Symptoms that tend to lead to a referral to a cardiologist include murmurs, heart rhythm abnormalities, cyanosis, chest pain, breathing problems, and fainting.

How does the cardiologist make a diagnosis?

To evaluate a patient, the cardiologist takes the medical history of the child and the family and does a physical examination. To explore a concern further, they may order blood tests, an electrocardiogram, an X-ray, or an echocardiogram. Often a problem can be identified at this stage. This is called a diagnosis. Tests like cardiac catheterization can help provide more information on the heart, or be used as a treatment for some conditions.

For serious structural problems of the heart that require surgical treatment, the cardiologist will refer the patient to a cardiovascular surgeon who will operate on the child.

Cardiovascular surgeon

What is a cardiovascular surgeon?

A cardiovascular surgeon is a medical doctor who does operations on the heart and blood vessels. These can range from correcting specific congenital heart defects to heart transplants and inserting pacemakers. The cardiovascular surgeon is responsible for planning and supervising operative repair. This individual has expertise in surgery and paediatric cardiology, and plays an active role during a child's recovery in the intensive care unit.

When might your child be referred to a cardiovascular surgeon?

A cardiovascular surgeon will see a patient after being referred by a cardiologist, once it is clear that medication or other approaches will not help. They will review the child's medical records and any test results to evaluate the condition.

The cardiovascular surgeon will then meet with the child and parents to discuss what treatment options are available. Treatment, which can be palliative or corrective depending on the type of condition and how serious it is, may require one procedure or a series of procedures.

A day for surgery will be set. The cardiovascular surgeon and a team of other doctors and nurses will prepare the child for surgery, do the surgery, and look after the child following the procedure. Later, the child will be seen again by the surgeon and the cardiologist to see that they are recovering well.

Doctors in training: medical students, interns, residents, and fellows

A medical student is someone in a 3- or 4-year program to learn to be a doctor. Most have a university degree already.

After graduating from medical school, doctors must have further training, like an apprenticeship. A 1-year internship is required in many places before a doctor can get a license. If someone has a name tag that identifies themselves as a rotating intern, it means they rotate through a number of different specialties during the year.

To be a specialist or a family doctor, a doctor must do a residency. These residents rotate through different areas within their specialty. Different specialties have different lengths of training; the shortest amount of time is 2 years for family practice. A resident's name tag may tell you what year of training they are in.

You may hear interns and residents referred to as house staff or house officers. This refers to the interns and residents who are on call and in the hospital overnight.

Fellows spend between 1 and 3 years learning a specialty within a specialty. They have already been residents and provide quite a bit of care without direct supervision.

Last updated: December 4th 2009