Should I Become a Gastroenterologist?
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 2014, and the number of job opportunities for these professionals is expected to increase about 18% between 2012 and 2022. 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, experience in medical applications like eClinicalWorks and MedMath, familiarity with medical and surgical equipment like defibrillators, forceps and surgical clamps|
|Salary||$187,199 per year (Median salary from May 2014 for all physicians and surgeons)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), American College of Physicians, O*Net OnLine
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
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.
- Volunteer. The Association of American Medical Colleges recommends that aspiring physicians volunteer in college in order to make themselves more appealing candidates to medical school admissions boards. Aspiring gastroenterologists can volunteer at local hospitals or medical clinics to gain first-hand experience working in the medical field.
- Participate in extracurricular activities. According to the BLS, participation in extracurricular activities can help students demonstrate leadership qualities. Joining honors societies, clubs and sports teams can help an aspiring gastroenterologist stand out when applying to medical schools.
Step 2: Take the MCAT
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.
Step 3: Complete a Medical School 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.
Step 4: Get Licensed
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.
Step 5: Obtain Residency Training
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.
Step 6: Complete a Gastroenterology Fellowship
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.
Step 7: Become Board-Certified
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.
Step 8: Continue Learning
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.
Step 9: Join a Professional Organization
Membership in a professional organization, such as the American Gastroenterological Association, can provide gastroenterologists with access to continuing education opportunities as well as other benefits for career advancement. These include subscriptions to medical journals and publications, listings in professional directories and access to networking opportunities.