Congenital Heart Defects

Your Care Team

What is a Cardiologist?

A cardiologist is a doctor with special training and skill in finding, treating and preventing diseases of the heart and blood vessels.

If your general medical doctor feels that you might have a significant heart or related condition, he or she will often call on a cardiologist for help. Symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pains, or dizzy spells often require special testing. Sometimes heart murmurs or ECG changes need the evaluation of a cardiologist. Cardiologists help victims of heart disease return to a full and useful life and also counsel patients about the risks and prevention of heart disease. Most importantly, cardiologists are involved in the treatment of heart attacks, heart failure, and serious heart rhythm disturbances. Their skills and training are required whenever decisions are made about procedures such as cardiac catheterization, balloon angioplasty, or heart surgery.

What is a Pediatric Cardiologist?

A pediatric cardiologist is a doctor with special training and skill in diagnosing and treating children’s cardiac problems.  In some cases, evaluation and treatment may begin with the fetus since heart problems can now be detected before birth. Although many pediatric cardiologists specialize in congenital heart disease, patients may also see a pediatric cardiologist for genetic issues or other cardiovascular risk factors like high cholesterol.

A pediatric cardiologist is trained to perform and interpret procedures such as electrocardiograms, echocardiograms and exercise tests.  Pediatric cardiologists with additional training may perform cardiac catheterizations or electrophysiology studies. 

Pediatric cardiologists treating and managing congenital heart disease will work with a team of specialists, which could include social workers, congenital heart disease surgeons, physician assistants and registered nurses. For adolescent or adult congenital heart disease patients, they would team with an adult congenital heart disease cardiologists.

What is an Adult Congenital Heart Disease Cardiologist?

An adult congenital heart disease (ACHD) cardiologist is a cardiologist with specialized training in caring for adult patients with congenital heart disease. Like a pediatric cardiologist, this doctor has training in managing the more than 40 types of congenital heart diseases but are also trained to care for changes that occur in a CHD patient’s heart and other organs as the patient ages. If your pediatric cardiologist has discussed the importance of seeking specialized care for your child’s congenital heart disease, it is important to find a cardiologist with specialty training in clinical care for adults with congenital heart disease. An ACHD cardiologist coordinates care with other physicians caring for you, including your primary care physician.

You can locate congenital heart disease treatment locations by using the American College of Cardiology's national directory of CHD clinics.

What is a Congenital Heart Disease Surgeon?

A congenital heart disease (CHD) surgeon has had extensive training in performing surgeries on children and adult congenital heart disease patients. A CHD surgeon will work closely with a patient’s pediatric or adult congenital heart disease cardiologist and other specialty trained CHD cardiologists. The number of adults living with congenital heart disease has surpassed the number of pediatric CHD patients, thanks to the incredible advances in congenital heart disease surgery. However, it is important to remember that many congenital heart disease conditions are not "cured" and lifelong care from a congenital heart disease team is required.

What is a Physician Assistant?

A Physician Assistant (PA) is a healthcare professional who is authorized by the state to practice medicine as part of a team with a physician or group of physicians.  PAs deliver a broad range of medical and surgical services, including: conduct physical exams, obtain medical histories, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in procedures and prescribe medications. You may see a PA in the hospital admitting patients, performing hospital rounds, supervising stress testing, or assisting the cardiologists in the cardiac catheterization lab and electrophysiology lab. They are trained and certified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support and can respond to cardiac emergencies as they arise.
In the office setting PAs are trained to see both  stable cardiac patients as well as the acutely ill. They perform pre-operative clearance exams for non-cardiac surgery.  They can perform consolation evaluations on new cardiac patients. Cardiology PAs work as a team in collaboration with the cardiologist(s).

What is a Nurse Practitioner?
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are registered nurses who are prepared, through advanced education and clinical training, to provide a wide range of preventive and acute health care services to individuals of all ages. NPs complete graduate-level education preparation that leads to a master’s degree. NPs take health histories and provide complete physical examinations; diagnose and treat many common acute and chronic problems (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, infections and injuries); interpret laboratory results and X-rays; prescribe and manage medications and other therapies; provide health teaching and supportive counseling with an emphasis on prevention of illness and health maintenance; and refer patients to other health professionals as needed.

What is a Registered Nurse?
Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.

Registered nurses perform physical exams and health histories, counseling and education patients about their health.  RNs may also administer medications, interpret patient information and make critical decisions about needed actions.  Additionally, RNs coordinate care, in collaboration with a wide array of healthcare professionals and may direct and supervise care delivered by other healthcare personnel.

What is a Clinical Pharmacist?

Clinical pharmacists are the medication experts. You might not realize it, but they do much more than count tablets and pour liquids. They routinely provide medication recommendations to patients and health care professionals. Clinical pharmacist researchers generate, disseminate, and apply new knowledge that contributes to improved health and quality of life.  Clinical pharmacists are a primary source of advice regarding the safe, appropriate, and cost-effective use of medications. They often collaborate with physicians and other healthcare professionals. In some states, clinical pharmacists are given prescriptive authority under protocol with a medical provider (i.e., MD or DO), and their scope of practice is constantly evolving.