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What Does a Gastroenterologist Do?

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Digestive Wellness: The Focus for Highly Trained Specialists

Gastroenterology is a subspecialty of internal medicine. It’s a demanding field that may be difficult to balance with family life, although practitioners report a high level of job satisfaction.

Job Description

Gastroenterologists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI system digests and moves foods, absorbs nutrients, and removes waste from your body. Gastroenterologists can treat any part of this system, including the pharynx, esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, rectum and anus. Although they do not perform surgery, they use endoscopic instruments to view the GI tract and may refer patients to a GI surgeon or proctologist.

Education Requirements

Gastroenterology is a specialty that requires six years of training beyond the completion of a medical degree (M.D.), including a three-year residency in internal medicine followed by a three-year fellowship in the subspecialty of gastroenterology.

Most students enter medical school with at least a bachelor’s degree. Although no specific major is required, coursework should include advanced mathematics, life sciences, chemistry, physics, psychology, English and communications. Acceptance to medical school is competitive, and you should have a high grade-point average (3.65 or higher) and a score of at least 508 on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Letters of recommendation are required, and relevant work or volunteer experience may help your candidacy.

Medical school takes four years to complete. The first year consists of lecture and labs in advanced life sciences and pharmacology. In years two, three and four, students undertake additional coursework and spend time in supervised clinical settings, rotating through specialties to gain knowledge and experience.

After completion of medical school and residencies, state licensure is required to practice as a gastroenterologist. Specific requirements may vary somewhat, but most medical boards follow the same rules. Board certification is optional but enhances your credibility and opens the door to wider opportunities. Continuing education is recommended to stay up-to-date on research and advances in the profession, and it’s required to maintain certification. Continuing education credits can be earned through conferences and seminars sponsored by medical schools and professional organizations like the American Gastroenterological Association, which also offers online courses.

About the Industry

Gastroenterologists generally work in a group practice within a clinical or hospital setting. Some work in laboratories conducting research on any of the conditions gastroenterologists diagnose and treat, including irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux disease, hepatitis and cancers of the GI system. Like most physicians, gastroenterologists typically work 55–60 hours per week.

Years of Experience

The median annual salary for gastroenterologists ranges between $303,096 and $423,931 annually. Variation in pay depends on a variety of factors, including geographic location and years of experience. The typical salary ranges:

  • Less than one year of experience: $318,126–$350,690
  • 5–6 years of experience: $322,301–$354,864
  • 10–14 years of experience: $338,165–$370,662
  • 20+ years of experience: $353,195–$388,095

Job Growth Trend

Opportunities for all types of physicians, including gastroenterologists, are expected to grow faster than average compared to other jobs. The increasing population, along with a greater awareness of GI conditions and treatments, contribute to the demand for these highly trained specialists.