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Cardiology vs. Ophthalmology: Which Specialty is Right for You?

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by Yousmle Staff in Career

Cardiology vs. ophthalmology is one of the biggest debates among medical students interested in physiology. Both specialties allow you to explore the complex workings of the human body and use your skills to improve patient outcomes. However, they also have significant differences, such as the scope of practice, the work environment, and the training requirements.

How do you decide which one is right for you? In this article, we will provide helpful information and tips to help you make an intelligent decision on cardiology vs. ophthalmology and find a fulfilling career that matches your interests and abilities. We will also help you evaluate practical factors such as job availability, salary, and training duration.

Cardiology vs. Ophthalmology: Salary and Job Security

Cardiology might be your specialty if you want to earn a lot of money and have a steady demand for your services. But be prepared for a competitive job market after fellowship, even if you graduate from a prestigious program. A Harvard-MGH fellow once told me, “I’ll consider myself lucky if I find a job in a city I recognize.”

Ophthalmology, meanwhile, offers more job openings. You can easily find a hospital that needs ophthalmologists, and the career outlook is positive, even if the salary is not as high as cardiology. But ophthalmology also comes with some challenges, such as higher burnout and less job security, which I will discuss later.

According to recent data, cardiologists earn an average annual salary of $507,000, while ophthalmologists have a lower average salary of $388,000. Of all medical specialties, only orthopedists and plastic surgeons have higher average annual salaries than cardiologists, with orthopedists earning $573,000 and plastic surgeons earning $619,000.

Estimated Physician Average Yearly Salary by Medical Specialty in the US

Cardiologists earn $507,000 per year on average, while ophthalmologists earn less with $388,000 annually

Cardiology vs. Ophthalmology: Competitiveness

Here we can assess the competitiveness of a specialty by looking at the unmatched rate – the % of people who apply and do not match into their preferred specialty. To become an ophthalmologist, graduates are required to complete a one-year internship in internal medicine, followed by a four-year residency program in ophthalmology. The percentage of US seniors who were unmatched in internal medicine was 2.0%, making it a less competitive residency in the 2022 match.

To pursue a career in cardiology, you must first match into an internal medicine residency. However, this does not necessarily mean that cardiology is less competitive than ophthalmology. After completing your internal medicine residency, you will still need to match into a cardiology fellowship, which is generally highly competitive. 

Below is the unmatched percentage among non-pediatric fellowships with >100 applicants. The unmatched percentage of US Seniors applying to the cardiovascular diseases fellowship was 16.6%, making it more competitive compared to most fellowships with >100 applicants.

Training Path: Fellowship vs. Residency

The training pathways for cardiology vs. ophthalmology are not the same. Cardiology involves a three-year internal medicine residency and a cardiology fellowship. Ophthalmology involves a one-year internship in internal medicine, followed by a four-year residency program in ophthalmology.

An ophthalmology residency is generally less competitive than a cardiology fellowship. Your USMLE scores, med school, and research are the main things for residency applications. Research is also a big thing for fellowship applications, and your residency program counts more, but your USMLE scores matter much less.

Cardiology vs. Ophthalmology: Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a crucial factor for many medical professionals. Ophthalmologists often enjoy a slightly better work-life balance due to the nature of their work. They usually have predetermined working hours, leading to more predictable schedules. However, it’s worth mentioning that this also means ophthalmologists are thought to be more easily replaced, as they don’t typically maintain a panel of patients like their cardiology counterparts.

Cardiology, an often patient-centric specialty, requires building long-lasting patient relationships. While this can be rewarding, it also means carrying a patient panel and more administrative work.

That being said, cardiologists work an average of 56.2 hours/week, ranking third after general surgeons and intensivists who work 57.4 and 57.7 hours, respectively. Ophthalmology ranked near the lower end of medical specialties, with an average of 45.3 weekly working hours.

Estimated Physician Weekly Working Hours by Medical Specialty in the US

Cardiologists work an average of 56.2 hours per week, while ophthalmologists work fewer hours, at 45.3 per week.

Cardiologists require more documentation, such as referral letters and diagnostic tests, resulting in an estimated 16 hours of admin/paperwork per week, while ophthalmologists work fewer hours, at 10 per week.

Estimated Physician Admin/Paperwork Hours by Medical Specialty in the US

Cardiologist works on admin/paperwork an average of 16 hours per week, while ophthalmologists work fewer hours, at 10 per week.

Training Duration and Subspecialties

The training duration is a key aspect to consider when choosing between cardiology vs. ophthalmology. Ophthalmology has a five-year training period, while cardiology has a minimum of six years, with three years of internal medicine residency.

In addition, cardiologists often pursue more subspecialty training in fields like echocardiography or electrophysiology because of the scarce job opportunities. This can increase the length of your cardiology training.

Cardiology vs. Ophthalmology: Job Satisfaction and Burnout Rates

Job satisfaction plays a significant role in career fulfillment. According to various studies, both cardiologists and ophthalmologists tend to have high job satisfaction rates, with many professionals expressing contentment with their career choice and would choose it again if given the chance. However, cardiology has slightly lower reported burnout rates than ophthalmology.

According to recent data, ophthalmology ranked near the upper end of all medical specialties with 92% of ophthalmologists stating that they would choose the same specialty again. Similarly, cardiology ranked near the upper end with 93% of cardiologists feeling the same way.

Job Satisfaction Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Cardiologists reported a 93% job satisfaction rate, while ophthalmologists reported slightly lower satisfaction with 92%

That being said, the burnout rates for cardiology were 43% which was near the lower end of all medical specialties. In comparison, ophthalmology had a burnout rate of 48%, which ranked near the lower end of all medical specialties.

Burnout Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Cardiologists have a burnout rate of 43%, while ophthalmologists have a slightly higher burnout rate of 48%.

Cardiology vs. Ophthalmology Comparison

To provide a visual overview, here’s a table comparing cardiology and anesthesiology:

AspectCardiologyOphthalmology
Average SalaryGenerally high income due to specialization, especially in interventional cardiologyCompetitive salary, with potential for high earnings in subspecialties like retinal surgery
Job SecurityHigh demand due to an aging population and the prevalence of cardiovascular diseasesStable demand, as vision issues are prevalent across age groups
Training PathTypically involves 3 years of internal medicine residency followed by a 3-year cardiology fellowshipTypically involves 5 years, including one preliminary internal medicine and 4 years of ophthalmology residency
LifestyleVaried; may involve on-call responsibilities, long working hours, and outpatient clinic dutiesGenerally more predictable working hours
Administrative PaperworkHigh documentation requirements such as notes, test orders, and referral lettersLower documentation requirements
Job SatisfactionGenerally high but can vary with the work environment and patient outcomesSimilar
Burnout RatesRelatively lower Higher
PersonalityStrong analytical skills, attention to detail, ability to handle stress and pressurePrecision and attention to details.

Please note that this table serves as a general comparison. To determine the most suitable career for you, consider your personal and career priorities and goals.

Concluding Thoughts

Choosing the right specialty between cardiology vs. ophthalmology depends heavily on your priorities. To determine this, try reverse engineering your ideal life and identify your top priority. A helpful exercise is to write down the top five things you want to achieve in your career and personal life. Knowing these priorities will make finding a career that aligns with them easier. Often, the biggest obstacle is not a lack of knowledge about different fields but a lack of self-awareness about our own preferences.

Want FREE Cardiology Flashcards?

Cardiology is key for impressive USMLE scores. Master cardiology from a Harvard-trained anesthesiologist who scored USMLE 270 with these 130+ high-yield flash cards. You’ll be begging for cardio questions - even if vitals make you queasy.

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