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The digestive system consists of the following: mouth, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, small intestine and large intestine. The area of medicine that encompasses the digestive field is called internal medicine. A doctor whose area of specialization is the digestive—or gastrointestinal—tract is known as a gastroenterologist. Within the field of gastroenterology, a doctor may focus on a particular organ or system, such as the liver. Also, there are specialized areas of nursing that focus primarily on the digestive system.
A gastroenterologist's work covers the entire spectrum of digestive tract diseases and disorders. Having a bachelor of science degree as a foundation, the student obtains a medical degree from an accredited medical school. The next step is to complete a residency program in internal medicine. After that, the board certification process takes place. As a certified physician, the individual is eligible to begin a gastroenterology fellowship in which she will zero in on her area of expertise. A fellowship is where a graduate student of a university or college has been appointed to a position that grants her financial aid and the means for further study. She is then known as a "fellow."
Hepatology is the science of treating the liver. A doctor with strong fundamental skills in gastroenterology and hepatology can train in the very specialized field of transplant hepatology. Some universities accept fellows with such backgrounds to hepatology transplant programs. This level of training includes care of patients with acute and chronic liver disease. This care extends to each phase of liver transplantation, and provides the doctor with experience in pre-surgical and surgical procedures.
Research is an evolving aspect of digestive medicine. Diseases and conditions of the digestive system might take the form of cancer, or less-serious conditions, such as ulcerative colitis or Chron's disease—inflammatory diseases of the intestine. In either case, researchers at universities, as well as biotech and pharmaceutical companies, seek to find cures or treatments through the research and discovery of new medications. Careers in this field require anywhere from an associate's degree to a doctorate, depending on the level of expertise required for a sought-after position.
Digestive Health Nursing
Digestive health-care nurses are trained to understand digestive conditions in all of the individual parts of the digestive system. They often have expertise in one of more of those areas, plus they are knowledgeable in weight disorders. Patient advocacy is a responsibility that many of these nurses have. For example, a patient might object to sedation or be uncomfortable with the idea of any drug that causes drowsiness. Alternative methods can then be used.