Cardiologists are heart specialists, who are medical doctors trained to treat abnormalities and diseases of the heart and cardiovascular system. They use a stethoscope to listen to the patient’s heart and an electrocardiograph to make recordings of the activity. They study X-rays to determine the existence or extent of a heart disorder.

The field of cardiology features several subspecialties:

Non-invasive cardiologists are concerned only with diagnosing ailments.   They do not conduct surgery or provide other treatment.

Interventional cardiologists perform invasive tests and procedures to diagnose and treat cardiac disease.

Cardiovascular surgeons operate on the heart, veins and arteries.  Invasive non-interventional cardiologists perform cardiac catheterisations by placing a tube through a blood vessel to obtain a picture of the diseased portion of the heart. If a pacemaker is required, they would implant it.

Heart surgery includes coronary bypass surgery (where a graft is made from a section of a vein or artery removed elsewhere in the body and used to carry blood around portions of narrowed vessels). Coronary bypass surgery is the most common procedure of this type. Other surgical procedures such as angioplasty and endarterectomy (surgically removing fatty deposits from closed or inflamed blood vessels), are often performed by cardiologists. In extreme cases, hearts may be transplanted from a suitable donor.

Other subspecialties included echocardiography, electrophysiology and nuclear cardiology.

In general, their tasks are to meet with patients to learn about their medical histories and symptoms, conduct diagnostic tests to determine the cause and nature of the disease, examine and interpret the test results and explain them to the patients. Education us an important part of the job – cardiologists explain the tests and procedures to their patients. They then discuss possible treatment methods with the patients, prescribe medication, conduct non-invasive procedures or perform surgery.  They need to coordinate medical staff for tests and procedure, recommend postoperative care, and educate the patients about how to lead healthier lives, for example, by following special diets and doing regular exercise.  Patient records must be kept, and education continued by attending conferences and reading medical publications.  These doctors work with a wide range of patients, from children to seniors.

Among thetypes of medical equipment cardiologists use to make their diagnoses are x-rays, electrocardiograms, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound imaging.  They also conduct angiography, arteriography and stress tests, and draw and examine samples of the patients’ blood.

Cardiologists may prescribe medication and recommend special diets and exercise to a patient. They also perform corrective surgery where necessary. Cardiologists sometimes work in conjunction with anaesthetists.

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

Note: Competition to enter medical studies is stiff and there are usually many applicants with excellent grades who naturally would be given preference.

What to Study

MBChB degree at UP, UCT, UFS, Wits, US, UL, UKZN:

  • Theoretical training: 6 years
  • Student internship: 1 year
  • Practical work at a hospital: 1 year (also known as the house doctor year).

Post-graduate study for specialisation as a cardiologist: 4 years.

Additional Requirements: before commencing post-graduate study for specialisation as a cardiologist, the candidate must:

  • be in possession of a MBChB degree for 2 years
  • be registered as a medical doctor with the Health Professions Souncil of South Africa (HPCSA) for 1 year.

Registration: on successful completion of the examination to qualify as a specialist, the candidate must register with the Medical & Dental Board of the HPCSA as a cardiologist.


  • medical schools
  • general hospitals
  • clinics
  • private hospitals

Further Information

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)
P O Box 205
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 338-9301 Fax: (012) 328-5120

Getting Started

  • do volunteer or part-time work at local hospitals
  • do a first aid course with St John’s Ambulance Foundation
  • read as much as possible about diseases of the heart and cardiovascular system