How Can I Become a Gastroenterologist?

Research what it takes to become a gastroenterologist. Learn about education requirements, job responsibilities, median salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Health Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Gastroenterologist?

Gastroenterologists are doctors who specialize in treating conditions of the digestive system, which includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine, as well as associated organs like the liver, pancreas and gall bladder. They consult with patients about their gastrointestinal health and may prescribe medications or recommend nutritional strategies or lifestyle changes to treat or manage conditions. Gastroenterologists also conduct endoscopic procedures, such as colonoscopies. Some specialize in the treatment of particular conditions, such as esophageal disorders, motility disorders or liver diseases.

The following table gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine
Training Required Internal medicine residency program, fellowship training program in gastroenterology
Job Responsibilities Diagnose and treat disorders and infections in the digestive system; perform colonoscopies and endoscopies
Licensure/Certification Physician licensure and board certification in gastroenterology
Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% for physicians in general*
Median Salary (2017) $351,250 for gastroenterologists**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

What Responsibilities Will I Have as a Gastroenterologist?

Gastroenterologists are a type of physician called an internist. They specialize in the body's digestive system including the intestines, stomach, pancreas, gallbladder and liver.

As a gastroenterologist, you will diagnose and treat disorders and infections in the digestive tract. You will do tests to identify the cause of a patient's problem and then decide on the appropriate treatment. You will use advanced medical instruments like a colonoscope and an endoscope to see internal organs. Some of the ailments you will encounter include cancer, cirrhosis, heartburn, ulcers, hepatitis, pancreatitis, jaundice, appendicitis and irritable bowel syndrome.

How Much Education Do I Need?

Extensive education and training is needed to become a gastroenterologist. You will first study for four years to obtain a bachelor's degree from a college or university. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), you will then head to medical school for four more years to earn a Doctor of Medicine degree from a school accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (www.ama-assn.org).

After graduating from medical school, you will continue your education as a new doctor in a residency program lasting three years to study the specialty of internal medicine. According to the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), that residency will be followed by two to four years in fellowship training in the sub-specialty of gastroenterology (www.gastro.org).

Then you must get a license in the state where you will practice. Each state licenses doctors. You have the option of getting certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and certified in the sub-specialty of gastroenterology to show your expertise. Certification is voluntary.

What Salary Might I Earn and What Is the Job Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide salary data specifically for gastroenterologists, but it does provide data for physicians in general. As of February 2017, the median annual salary for gastroenterology physicians was $351,250, according to Salary.com. The BLS predicted that the number of jobs for physicians, in general, will rise by 14% between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than average.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Physicians have many specialization options to choose from. Instead of choosing to focus on gastroenterology, you may choose to complete a fellowship program in a different area of internal medicine after completing your residency, such as hematology, rheumatology or nephrology, among others. These fellowships can last for 1-3 years. Alternatively, you may choose a residency in a completely different area of medicine, such as psychiatry, anesthesiology or pathology. If you are looking for a different job in a gastroenterologist office, you could also consider a career as a physician assistant. These professionals work closely with doctors, including gastroenterologists, to provide patient care; they need a master's degree and a license to practice.

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