Last Updated: 03/17/15
What is a Gastroenterology?
As a gastroenterologist you would be treating diseases of the gastrointestinal system. This includes disorders and diseases of the esophagus, pancreas, intestines, stomach and as well as any glands associated with these organs. Another part of practicing gastroenterology involves hepatology, which is the diagnosis and treatment of health problems with the liver. Most of the patients a gastroenterologists sees are those who have been referred to them by primary care physicians who have concerns of disorders or disease in the patient’s digestive tract.
Much of what a gastroenterologist does on a daily basis involves consultations with patients to diagnose medical conditions and determine the proper course of treatment. These doctors use a wide range of medical tests to help them diagnose conditions including performing endoscopies and colonoscopies as well as using a variety of scans like x-rays, ultrasounds and MRIs. Some gastroenterologists also perform the required surgeries involving the digestive system in order to treat their patients.
If you choose to work as a gastroenterologist you might work in a small private practice that has a few different doctors, each with their own specialty or you might choose to work in a hospital. If you perform outpatient surgery for your patients, you might be able to do that in a small private practice, or you may do the operation in a hospital and then have to make rounds to the hospital to remain fully informed of their progress. Most of the time these doctors schedule their surgeries only on one or two days a week, then one day they may dedicate to rounding and the other days to consultations with patients.
To become a gastroenterologist, you must first complete a four year medical school program and receive either an M.D. or a D.O. You will then need to complete a two or three year residency program, typically in internal medicine. This gives you the opportunity to receive intensive training on how all of the systems in the body work and affect each other. Once you have completed residency, you can then begin to start your training in the field of gastroenterology with a three year fellowship in that specific field, supervised by a practicing gastroenterologist. You then have to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) before you can become a practicing gastroenterologist.
There are a few things you can do to increase your desirability among prospective employers and also your potential earnings. You can choose to become board certified by simply taking an exam given by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American College of Gastroenterology, as well as taking various continuing education courses. Another thing you could do is choose to do an additional 2 to three year fellowship to become a subspecialist in gastrointestinal oncology, hepatobiliary medicine, gastrointestinal radiology or gastric medicine.
Salary.com reported that the median salary for a gastroenterologist is $320,389. The same report showed that gastroenterologists on the lower end of the pay scale make about $224,000 and those on the higher end made closer to $468,000. A 2011 compensation survey published by Medscape found that gastroenterologists were among the top 6 specialties, when it comes to earnings. The others just ahead of them included cardiologists, radiologists, anesthesiologist and urologists. The same survey found that about 15% of gastroenterologists polled said they earned $500,000 a year.
The job outlook for all physicians is really quite good now and is projected to continue this way in the future as we are on the verge of seeing a dramatic increase in the elderly population. Being a specialist makes you even more desirable to hospitals and private practice facilities. There is also a high percentage of people who find themselves suffering from gastrointestinal and digestive issues, while the exact cause for this increase is unknown, it is known that gastroenterologists will become even more important.