What Is an Endocrinologist?
An endocrinologist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders affecting the organs and glands that produce hormones — collectively called the endocrine system.
Endocrine-system disorders are varied, complex, and numerous. They include thyroid conditions and cancers, diabetes, issues with male and female hormones, gender health, metabolic conditions, bone health, parathyroid disease, pituitary and adrenal-gland disorders, and more.
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) clinical endocrinologist Dr. Stephanie Smooke Praw says it's her job to understand the complex role of hormones in the body and recognize when they may be causing a patient’s issue.
“The challenges of practicing endocrinology are also some of the rewards,” she says. “Helping a patient get to the root of their symptoms can be tough but gratifying.”
A Day in the Life of Dr. Stephanie Smooke Praw, Endocrinologist at UCLA
Treating patients is just one part of Dr. Smooke Praw's portfolio. She’s also a David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM) associate professor, the Endocrinology Fellowship program director, director of education for the Division of Endocrinology, and director of a soon-to-launch UCLA Thyroid Center.
“As a result of my different roles, every day looks a little bit different,” Dr. Smooke Praw says. “I spend several days per week providing direct patient care.”
In her patient-care role, Dr. Smooke Praw focuses on thyroid diseases and thyroid cancer. She enjoys the multifaceted diagnostic demands of endocrinology. Each time she sees a new patient, she observes complex symptoms with many possible causes. She applies her systemic knowledge to correctly identify the issue.
When she’s not seeing patients, Dr. Smooke Praw spends her time doing educational activities with fellows, running the fellowship program, directing a lecture series, and overseeing a multidisciplinary tumor board.
“I really enjoy the variety of activities that make up my days and my weeks,” she says. “But helping fellows achieve their potential as physicians is definitely a highlight.”
What Does an Endocrinologist Do?
An endocrinologist provides diagnoses and care for health issues rooted in the endocrine system.
“An endocrinologist is responsible for evaluating diabetes, bone loss, and a range of hormonal issues, including hormones from the pituitary, adrenal, and thyroid glands as well as reproductive organs,” Dr. Smooke Praw explains.
Patients come to endocrinologists knowing something is going on in their bodies. Endocrinologists identify what that something is. They evaluate symptoms, consider all possible causes of the patient’s presentation, and offer evidence-based treatments.
“My favorite thing about being an endocrinologist is the longitudinal relationships I’m able to develop with my patients,” Dr. Smooke Praw says. “While some endocrine issues are finite and only require a handful of visits, many of the patient issues I manage require long-term follow-up. Being able to help my patients navigate their thyroid cancer or thyroid disease diagnosis and management is very rewarding.”
Can You Specialize Within the Field of Endocrinology?
Some endocrinologists choose to further specialize within the endocrine system.
“Endocrinology is a broad field. If you’re interested in a specific disease process or organ, it’s possible to tailor your practice to focus on that area,” Dr. Smooke Praw says.
Endocrinologists may choose to focus on thyroid cancer and disease, like Dr. Smooke Praw, or pituitary and adrenal disorders, bone health, gender health, diabetes, neuroendocrinology, reproductive health, and other niche areas within the field of endocrinology.
When to See an Endocrinologist
Dr. Smooke Praw says patients should see an endocrinologist if they have concerns about their thyroid, blood sugar, sex hormones, or bone density.
“Often, preliminary evaluation of symptoms is performed by an internist or family medicine practitioner, and then a referral is made to endocrinology if needed,” she explains.
The endocrinologist will then conduct further evaluation and diagnostic tests. Patients may also see an endocrinologist to seek treatment for a previously diagnosed endocrine condition.
How to Become an Endocrinologist
To become an endocrinologist, you must complete medical school, residency training in internal medicine, endocrinology’s parent specialty, and training in an endocrine fellowship program.
Before endocrinologists may practice on patients, they must earn a license from their state of practice and also from the United States by passing the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
Endocrinologists should seek board certification from the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) in Internal Medicine and then Endocrinology. This further demonstrates — to potential employers and patients — competency within their medical specialty.
Some future endocrinologists enter medical school knowing they want to specialize in endocrinology. However, many others, including Dr. Smooke Praw, discover their passion for endocrinology well into medical school.
“My path was not straightforward. I did not come into medical school thinking I would be an adult endocrinologist,” says Dr. Smooke Praw, who arrived at medical school with a masters in Japanese Art History and the intention to become a pediatrician. She discovered and fell in love with endocrinology in her fourth year of medical school.
How Much Does an Endocrinologist Make?
Dr. Smooke Praw says the routine procedures involved in a medical practice influence the practitioners’s salary.
“In endocrinology, our procedures include thyroid ultrasound and fine needle aspiration biopsy. Since the scope of our procedures is small and we are paid to “think,” our compensation may not be as competitive as in some other fields.”
According to data from Medscape, the average salary of an endocrinologist practicing in the United States in 2022 is $245,000.
Quick Tips for Future Endocrinologists
Feel free to explore interests beyond medicine.
Dr. Smooke Praw explored her interest in art history as an undergraduate student. This may seem unorthodox, but she says science and art have much in common.
“Both require keen observation skills and an understanding of the culture and social determinants that influence either someone’s health in the context of medicine or the art they produce,” she says.
Try out your specialty before you commit to it.
Dr. Smooke Praw recommends requesting a rotation in your chosen specialty to assess compatibility.
“My best advice is to approach every rotation with an open mind. You might be surprised by what resonates most with you.”
Develop your intellectual curiosity, commitment to patient care, and persistence.
According to Dr. Smooke Praw, these three characteristics make a strong endocrinologist.
About the UCLA Thyroid Center
The soon-to-launch UCLA Thyroid Center puts UCLA at the forefront of clinical care, education, and innovation in thyroid clinical care, research, and education. It will be a hub for outstanding patient care, patient and trainee education, and advanced research in thyroidology. The center’s location within a top health system will enable leaders in endocrine surgery, head and neck surgery, radiology, nuclear medicine, oncology, radiation oncology, and pathology to collaborate and provide exemplary multidisciplinary thyroid care.
About Thyroid Awareness Month
The awareness spread by Thyroid Awareness Month is essential for ensuring people seek the care they need to have the most favorable thyroid cancer outcomes.
Thyroid cancer by the numbers:
- Approximately 43,000 adults were diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2022
- The lifetime risk of developing thyroid cancer is 1.2%, according to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) thyroid cancer database
- Thyroid cancer is the 7th most common cancer diagnosed in women
- Thyroid cancer accounts for 2.3% of all cancer diagnoses with an overall relative 5 year survival of 98.4 percent