How to Become a Gastroenterologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 05, 2020

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.

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Becoming 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 sub-discipline of gastroenterology dealing with diseases of the liver.

Gastroenterologists might work independently or as part of a group practice. Often they will work in clean, well-lit hospital environments. However, as with all physicians, their hours can be long and irregular, occasionally being on-call during evening and weekend hours.

Career Requirements

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, leadership, organizational skills, and problem-solving skills; attention to detail, patience, and empathy; experience in medical applications like eClinicalWorks and MedMath, familiarity with medical and surgical equipment like defibrillators, forceps, and surgical clamps
Salary $200,890 per year (Median salary from May 2018 for all physicians and surgeons)
Job Outlook Opportunities expected to increase 7% between 2018 and 2028

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), American College of Physicians, O*Net OnLine

Steps to Be a Gastroenterologist

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.

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.

Additionally, 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 four-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 students gain 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 three-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 two to three 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 medical 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 education 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.

Aspiring gastroenterologists earn an undergraduate degree before applying to medical school, which entails four years of training, followed by two to three years of a residency in internal medicine, and an additional three years of training in a gastrointestinal medicine fellowship. Gastroenterologists need a license to practice and voluntary certification is available.

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