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Learn how to become a gastroenterologist. Research the education and career requirements, training and licensure information and experience required for starting a career in gastroenterology.
A gastroenterologist is a doctor whose specialty is treating diseases related to the digestive system, which includes the esophagus, intestines, pancreas and colon as well as their accessory glands. Some gastroenterologists practice hepatology, a subdiscipline of gastroenterology dealing with diseases of the liver.
Gastroenterologists might work independently or as part of a group practice. Often they will work in a clean, well-lit hospital environment. However, as with all physicians, their hours can be long and irregular, occasionally being on-call during evening and weekend hours. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, physicians and surgeons earned a median annual wage of over $187,000 in May 2012, and the number of job opportunities for these professionals is expected to increase about 18% between 2012 and 2022.
Becoming a gastroenterologist involves years of medical schooling and specialized training. Like all physicians, gastroenterologists must also complete a residency in their specialty and obtain licensure to practice. The following table outlines common requirements to become a gastroenterologist:
|Degree Level||Medical degree*|
|Experience||At least 3 years of residency training* and 3 years of fellowship training in gastroenterology**|
|Licensure and Certification||A medical license is required; voluntary certification is available and may improve career outlook*|
|Key Skills||Strong communication and leadership skills, attention to detail, organizational skills, problem-solving skills, patience, empathy, knowledge of human anatomy*|
|Computer Skills||Medical applications like eClinicalWorks and MedMath***|
|Technical Skills||Familiarity with medical and surgical equipment like defibrillators, forceps and surgical clamps***|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **American College of Physicians, ***O*Net OnLine.
While an undergraduate education is required for entrance to medical school, students are not required to major in a specific topic. Many programs look for students with a well-rounded education, as long as they have taken the mandatory prerequisite courses during their undergraduate studies. These prerequisites can include biology, inorganic and organic chemistry, mathematics, physics, humanities, English and social sciences.
All students must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) to be considered for admission to medical school, and each program defines its own minimum score requirements. This test is usually taken during the junior year of study in a bachelor's degree program.
Medical school is a 4-year course of study that leads to a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). The first two years generally focus on classroom and laboratory instruction in science and medicine topics, like anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, diagnosis and medical ethics. The final two years consist of clinical rotations, during which time the student gains hands-on experience in multiple medical specialties.
All physicians are required to pass medical licensing examinations in order to practice the profession. Passage of the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, which is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners and the Federation of State Medical Boards, is commonly required. This is a 3-step exam that tests a student's ability to understand concepts, principles and skills specific to the profession. Other licensing requirements vary by state.
After completing medical school, doctors undertake 2-3 years of residency training in internal medicine. Residency training gives students in-depth experience in the internal workings of the human body to prepare for advanced training in gastroenterology. Residents complete clinical rotations in various subspecialties of internal medicine, and they might get didactic instruction in the classroom.
A 3-year fellowship is the final step in the student's education in preparation for becoming a gastroenterologist. This includes at least 18 months of patient-care experience. A consortium of the four major gastrointestinal medicine societies has established guidelines that require fellows to gain training in a variety of hepatic and gastrointestinal diseases. The consortium also requires fellows to take part in the long-term management of patients with diseases of the gastrointestinal system.
One way to advance a gastroenterology career is to become board certified. Although board certification is not a requirement to practice, most gastroenterologists elect to become certified in their specialty by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM). Gastroenterologists must first obtain certification in internal medicine through the ABIM before pursuing certification in gastroenterology. Board certification requires passing an exam and holding a current license to practice medicine.
Gastroenterologists are required to continue their educations in order to renew their license and certifications. They can take advanced courses in subjects such as esophageal disease, gastrointestinal oncology and nutrition/obesity. In addition to satisfying requirements, continuing education can help a gastroenterologist improve his or her skills and stay current with advances in the field.