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What does an Endocrinologist do?

Hormones are chemicals that the body produces, which control all the body's most basic and important functions, from growth to digestion and reproduction. Hormones are secreted by a system of glands, called the endocrine system, and it's this system that endocrinologists specialize in treating.

As specialized physicians, endocrinologists diagnose and treat patients with such conditions as diabetes, thyroid diseases, hypertension, infertility, osteoporosis, menopause or glandular cancers. They may work in hospitals, outpatient centers or research facilities. And as specialists, considerable training and licensure is required to work as an endocrinologist.

Becoming an endocrinologist

The first step toward becoming an endocrinologist is a four-year bachelor's degree. Following that, you'll need a graduate degree from medical school, followed by a three- or four-year residency in internal medicine, gynecology or pediatrics. Then, a two- or three-year fellowship in adult, pediatric or reproductive endocrinology leads you to working in this specialization. And, of course, successfully completing licensure exams for your state is a must in order to practice, and some states may limit reciprocity, meaning that you may need to take another exam if you relocate.

Obviously, a serious commitment of time and resources (emotional, physical and financial) is essential, as are determination, a passion for endocrinology and caring for patients, as well as an ability to work well under extreme pressure.

Our changing world needs endocrinologists

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7.8 percent of the U.S. population suffered from diabetes, with 5.7 million of those being undiagnosed cases. And it's the leading cause of blindness, kidney disease and nontraumatic amputations. In recent years, cases of Type 2 diabetes alone have skyrocketed, thanks mostly to increasing obesity.

Such unfortunate trends contribute to a growing demand for endocrinologists. Along with this, hypertension, a primary factor in heart diseases, and infertility, which occurs in 1 in 10 couples, are also the domain of endocrinologists.

So, while health care in general is seeing employment growth--projected growth among physician jobs is a rapid 22 percent--endocrinologists may see more rapid growth with the proliferation of these and other endocrine-related diseases and advances in their treatment.

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't specifically track salaries for these specialists, this high-demand, high-stress occupation can be highly lucrative. And, of course, the ability to help patients with these and other endocrine diseases and disorders can be incredibly rewarding emotionally as well.

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