A gastroenterologist is a doctor specialized in treating the digestive system. This includes the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine, gallbladder, pancreas and liver. Some of the conditions relating to the digestive system include acid reflux disease, heartburn, hemorrhoids, hepatitis, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers and hernias. A Gastroenterologist is a medical specialist whose job it is to recognize, diagnose and treat the specific system in the body that they specialize in. Gastroenterologists first train to be physicians before getting further training in treating the digestive tract. The field of specialized medicine tends to be a lucrative one and prospective gastroenterologists can expect to make a good salary if they are skilled.
Gastroenterologist: Job Responsibilities
The responsibilities of a gastroenterologist are many and varied. In general, they have many of the same duties as a regular doctor, except that they have full and further knowledge of the digestive system, including any possible diseases and the proper treatment for each one. The primary duty of a gastroenterologist is seeing to the welfare of the patient, much like any other medical professional or specialist. Since a specialist is often only seen on recommendation of a primary care physician, it is important that they warrant that recommendation by providing friendly, proper treatment. Correct diagnosis is also a very important part of a specialist’s job description. There are several severe conditions that can affect the digestive system and it is important that a gastroenterologist is able to correctly diagnosis and recommend treatment for those conditions. It is equally important that they are able to recognize less severe conditions so that the patient does not receive a false diagnosis that will cause them undue stress.
Gastroenterologist: Training and Education Requirements
The first step to becoming a gastroenterologist is to acquire a bachelor’s degree. It is not necessary to be a pre-med major, however. Many graduate programs want students to have a well rounded education. Some possible bachelor’s degrees include chemistry, biology, math, physics, humanities, English and social sciences. Once graduated with a bachelor’s degree, the prospective student will be required to take the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, in order to be considered for medical school admission. Different programs have different requirements for acceptable scores. Once in medical school, students can expect a four year study program, which will culminate in the receipt of a M.D. or D.O. degree. The first two years usually has its focus in the classroom and the last two years is clinical rotations resulting in real experience in medical practice.
After finishing medical school, the prospective gastroenterologist can expect to take up a two to three year residency in their planned area of focus. A prospective gastroenterologist will typically complete their residency in internal medicine. The final step in the gastroenterologist’s education is to complete a three year fellowship. To further advance their career, a gastroenterologist might also become board certified. This is not a requirement for practice, but certification by the American College of Gastroenterology and the American Board of Internal Medicine is a way to stand out among the crowd. In order to become board certified, the doctor must take an exam and complete continuing medical education courses.
Gastroenterologist: Salary and Wages
Gastroenterology, like many other medical specialist fields, has a higher than average wage. Gastroenterologists can expect to make an average salary of $349,000, depending on the area in which they work. Urban areas and areas with a higher cost of living generally pay more, while rural areas will pay less. The lowest reported salary for a gastroenterologist is $265,000, while the highest reported is $590,000. Other benefits typically include paid vacation, sick leave, health and retirement benefits.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
As previously mentioned, a gastroenterologist does not need to be certified by the American College of Gastroenterology and the American Board of Internal Medicine in order to practice. The degree in medicine and in their chosen field is enough to practice gastroenterology. However, up to eight years of college is required as well as residency in their chosen field.
Gastroenterologist: Professional Associations
The American Gastroenterological Association, or AGA, is one of the main professional associations for gastroenterology. The AGA was founded in 1897 and now has 17,000 members from around the world. The AGA Institute is involved in many aspects of gastroenterology including science, practice, research, education and advancement. The AGA publishes two highly prolific medical journals, “Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology” and “Gastroenterology.” The AGA’s annual meeting is held every May and is called Digestive Disease Week®.
The American College of Gastroenterology is another such professional organization, but not as large and prolific as the AGA. It has a membership of 12,000 doctors from 82 countries. It publishes the “American Journal of Gastroenterology”, a monthly medical journal that has been in circulation since 1934.
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