Learn About Being a Gastroenterologist
What does a gastroenterologist do?
Gastroenterologists are doctors who specialize in treating digestive system conditions and diseases. These can include disorders of the stomach, intestines, colon, pancreas, esophagus, gallbladder, bile ducts and liver. Gastroenterologists typically see patients who have been referred by their primary doctors after showing gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, bleeding and abdominal pain. Their responsibilities might include:
Meeting with and assessing patients
Running diagnostic tests
Performing colonoscopies and endoscopies to see within the colon and digestive system
Taking X-rays, MRIs, CT scans and ultrasounds
Referring patients for surgery and continuing their treatment post-surgery
Treating patients for conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, gastritis, hemorrhoids, Crohn’s disease, lactose intolerance, heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease, ulcers, celiac disease, gallbladder disease and certain cancers
Completing administrative tasks such as filling out paperwork and patient records
Meeting with medical staff and contributing to business decisions
Gastroenterologists are highly specialized internal medicine doctors. Because they are experts in their field, they often earn high salaries.
Common salary in the U.S.: $243,173 per year
Some salaries range from $45,000 to $611,000 per year.
Gastroenterologists spend more than a decade learning about and becoming trained in gastrointestinal structure and disease. They must earn an advanced degree and a medical license before being able to practice. Their qualifications typically include:
Gastroenterologists must earn a Bachelor of Science degree, followed by a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. It takes about eight years to complete undergraduate study and medical school.
After earning a medical degree, gastroenterologists typically spend six years in formal training. They must complete an internal medicine residency program, during which they gain experience working in a clinic or hospital under a teaching physician’s supervision. They help care for patients and apply the knowledge they gained in school in a real-world setting.
Aspiring gastroenterologists then complete a fellowship to specialize in gastroenterology. During this three-year period, they gain more training and direct experience caring for patients. They also learn to screen for cancers, diagnose and treat a variety of gastrointestinal diseases and understand topics such as nutrition, obesity and women’s health.
After completing their residency, gastroenterologists must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) to be licensed to practice. They must also have a state medical license, which they can apply for through their state’s medical board.
Though not required to practice, gastroenterologists might also consider obtaining certification through the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) or the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery (ABCRS) to advance their careers. Gastroenterologists can earn this certification by studying for and passing the ABIM Internal Medicine Certification Examination or the ABCRS exam.
Gastroenterologists typically have scientific minds and curiosity about digestive tract function and structure. They enjoy helping people improve their health and quality of life. Skills gastroenterologists need to be successful include:
Gastroenterologists typically meet with more than a dozen patients a day. They should be friendly, approachable and caring. Patients should feel comfortable sharing sensitive health information with them.
Gastroenterologists should be able to clearly describe complex diseases and treatments in language patients can understand. They must also communicate effectively with nurses and other medical staff.
Gastroenterologists should be able to understand what their patients experience and identify with their issues.
Gastroenterologists must assess patients’ symptoms, choose the appropriate tests to run, interpret those test results and then determine the best treatment plans. They need to continually come up with solutions to challenging gastrointestinal problems.
Gastroenterologists lead a team of medical staff and contribute to business decisions that affect their practice.
Gastroenterologist work environment
Gastroenterologists typically work in hospitals, clinics or health centers. They might be the only doctor on staff, or they might be a member of a group practice. They often work long and unpredictable hours, including during evenings and weekends. Outside of normal working hours, they might be on call and have to return to the office in the case of an emergency.
Gastroenterologists might see anywhere from 25 to 125 patients per week, as well as consult with other doctors and staff. They might have to deal with difficult patients and stressful situations. Their work environment is typically clean and well-organized. They may spend many hours standing.
How to become a gastroenterologist
Gastroenterologists must follow a long and intensive path to be licensed to practice. They might spend as many as 14 years in school and training programs before getting hired. The steps to become a gastroenterologist typically include:
1. Earn a bachelor’s degree
Pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in any subject that meets the science requirements to get into medical school. These requirements typically include a certain number of classes in chemistry, biology, physics and calculus.
2. Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
Students who want to apply for medical school must pass the MCAT, typically during their junior year of college.
3. Earn a medical degree
Complete a four-year graduate program to earn your M.D. or D.O. You will likely spend the first two years taking classes and doing lab work, and the last two years getting experience by doing clinical rotations.
4. Begin taking the USMLE
Study for and pass the first two parts of the three-part USMLE administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners and the Federation of State Medical Boards. This exam tests whether you have the skills and abilities to succeed in the medical field.
5. Complete a residency
You must spend two to three years in training under an experienced doctor. During your residency, you will rotate through internal medicine specialties and do some work in the classroom.
6. Finish taking the USMLE
Complete the third part of this exam—which tests whether you can practice unsupervised—to become a licensed medical professional. You must pass the USMLE to apply for a fellowship.
7. Complete a gastroenterology fellowship
You must do a three-year fellowship to gain the final training needed to become a gastroenterologist. You can find fellowship programs through the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, the American College of Gastroenterology and the American Gastroenterological Association.
8. Become board-certified
While not required, you might choose to become board-certified in gastroenterology to be more attractive to employers. Certification includes studying for and passing the gastroenterology certification exam through the ABIM or ABCRS.
9. Apply for jobs and get licensed
Look for gastroenterologist positions in hospitals, private or group practices and health facilities such as nursing homes. Then apply for a license in the state where you will be working to practice legally.
10. Join industry associations
To continue your education and advance in your career, you can become a member of one or more professional gastroenterology organizations. These associations might provide you with medical journal subscriptions, networking and job opportunities, professional directories, annual conferences and more.
Gastroenterologist job description example
University Digestive Health is looking for a skilled gastroenterologist to join our 12-member group practice. This gastroenterologist will be responsible for meeting with patients, ordering tests and diagnostic imaging and creating treatment plans for each patient. The successful candidate should have experience working in pediatric gastroenterology, liver disease and nutrition. This individual should be compassionate, have excellent communication skills and be able to work well with a team of talented medical professionals.
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