What is an Endocrinologist?
An endocrinologist is a physician that specializes in hormones and metabolism. Many patients refer to their endocrinologist as their “diabetes doctor”, as they can help manage diabetes, but they can also treat conditions like thyroid problems, pituitary disorders, reproductive disorders, as well as calcium and bone disorders.
Your doctor may refer you to an endocrinologist for a variety of reasons. Your primary care physician may refer you for diabetes management or for a thyroid problem. Your obstetrician-gynecologist (OBGYN) may refer you to help manage polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or gestational diabetes. Hormones play a large role in many aspects of health, so there are many different conditions they can help with.
Some people with diabetes see an endocrinologist, while others does not. Many different factors play a role in whether or not you need to see an endocrinologist for diabetes management. Your primary care physician may refer you to an endocrinologist if you have been working with them on controlling blood sugars with little success. It’s generally considered reasonable for a patient to see an endocrinologist if their A1C is consistently over 8.0%, and most people with type 1 diabetes see an endocrinologist. Many primary care physicians do not feel comfortable managing their patients on insulin pumps so people using these usually see an endocrinologist. Generally, endocrinologists see mostly patients with diabetes, so they are going to have more knowledge and experience regarding all potential diabetes treatments. They also may have Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialists and/or dietitians in their office that can help as well.
Unless your insurance company requires a referral (which is becoming less and less common), you can always look into scheduling an appointment with a specialist on your own. You do not have to wait for a referral or “permission” from your doctor to do this. Seeing an endocrinologist for diabetes management may be a good idea if you feel you are not getting adequate care or want a second opinion. Again, if your A1C is over 8.0% seeing an endocrinologist may be a good idea, but some people with very well controlled diabetes still choose to see an endocrinologist.
For someone to become an endocrinologist, after medical school, he or she will do a residency in internal medicine, which usually lasts 3 years. After the residency, they take the American Board of Internal Medicine exam and then complete a 2-3 year endocrinology fellowship. Following the Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism Exam, he or she can then obtain a license to practice in their state.