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Gastroenterologist Career Profile: How to Become a GI and What GI Physicians Do

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Overview:

Gastroenterologists specialize in treatment of chronic or acute conditions of the digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, intestines, and colon. Also, most gastroenterologists also practice some hepatology, which is the treatment of liver disease and maladies.

Training, Education, and Certification:

Gastroenterology is a subspecialty of Internal Medicine. A gastroenterologist has completed all of the same training as an internist, (4 years undergraduate, 4 years medical school, and 3 years of residency) plus three years of fellowship training in Gastroenterology. Some fellowships offer a fourth year of advanced training. Most gastroenterologists are board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, and the American College of Gastroenterology, although board-certification is not absolutely required to practice.

As all physicians do, GIs must hold an active state medical license in the state where they practidce, and pass the USMLE in order to legally practice medicine.

Compensation for Gastroenterologists:

Most gastroenterologists are owners or partners in their own practice, although some are employed by a hospital or group. As with most physicians, the higher the volume of patient visits and procedures performed translates into higher earnings, in general. According to the Medical Group Management Association, (MGMA) the average compensation for a gastroenterologist is $496,139 annually, based on a report released in 2010 based on data from 2009, the most recent figures available. Those physicians earning in the 90th percentile can earn over $775,000.

Procedures & Patients:

Gastroenterologists treat a variety of conditions, including but not limited to:
Gastroenterologists perform a variety of scopes, called endoscopies, of the upper and lower digestive tract. Some of these scopes help to identify, or diagnose the problem, while other scopes are done to remove polyps or remove a defective portion of the digestive tract to repair a problem. Endoscopy involves inserting a long, flexible tube into the digestive tract. The tube has a tiny camera at the tip which allows the physician to see the insides of the patient’s digestive organs and treat any issues accordingly.

What's to Like:

Many gastroenterologists like the field because of the combination it offers of treating patients in an office, and performing procedures. Physicians who are torn between medical and surgical specialties often settle on gastroenterology, where they can treat patients in an office with medication and dietary changes, or perform a variety of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures in a hospital, surgical center, or endoscopy suite. Additionally, the compensation is definitely competitive, which is encouraging.

What's Not to Like:

Typically, gastroenterologists deal with many of the same issues as physicians of other specialties, such as declining reimbursements, due to managed care, and the long hours often required to train and work as a physician. Being a physician is not for everyone, but if you can endure the many years of school and training, and handle the pressure and stress of practicing medicine, being a physician such as a gastroenterologist may be a good career choice for you. Much of your career satisfaction as a physician will depend on your practice environment, colleagues, schedule, support, and other factors that impact physicians' careers in general.

More Information:

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