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What is a Gastroenterologist?

Gastroenterology is the study of the normal function and diseases of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts and liver. A Gastroenterologist is a physician with detailed understanding of the normal function of the digestive tract and specialized training and extensive experience in the management of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and liver.

A physician wanting to become a Gastroenterologist must first complete a three year Internal Medicine residency. They are then eligible for specialized training in Gastroenterology known as a fellowship. Gastroenterology fellowship training is overseen by national societies committed to ensuring high quality and uniform education. These groups carefully scrutinize the educational experience of each program to ensure that every Gastroenterology trainee receives the highest quality training. The fellowship is generally three years in length. Some Gastroenterologists will pursue a fourth year of training in areas such as advanced endoscopy, liver or pancreatic disease, or research. During these years of intense, rigorous training, the future Gastroenterologist (fellow) learns directly from nationally recognized experts in the field and develops a detailed understanding of gastrointestinal disease. The Gastroenterology fellow learns how to evaluate patients with gastrointestinal complaints and concerns and then formulate and carry out a treatment plan. Patients are seen in the office and hospital settings and range from asymptomatic to critically ill.

A major component in the Gastroenterologist's education is dedicated training in endoscopy. Endoscopy is the use of a thin flexible tube with a light and camera on the end it to diagnose and treat disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, biliary and pancreatic systems. The Gastroenterology fellow will spend three years learning when to appropriately use endoscopy to evaluate and treat a patient as well as how to perform the exam. The fellow learns all aspects of the exam. With direct mentoring by expert endoscopists, the fellow learns how to safely and effectively complete the endoscopy with the use of sedating medications to ensure a comfortable procedure. In addition to learning how to perform diagnostic endoscopies, the fellow must also become skilled in therapeutic endoscopy. This includes procedures such as polypectomy (removal of polyps from the intestinal tract), dilation (stretching of narrowed areas in the intestinal tract) and hemostasis (stopping bleeding in the intestinal tract). Finally, in addition to knowing when to perform an endoscopy and how to perform the exam, the Gastroenterologist will know how to interpret the findings and apply that information in forming a treatment plan.

The most critical emphasis during the training period is attention to detail and incorporation of comprehensive knowledge of the entire gastrointestinal tract to provide the highest quality endoscopic and consultative services. The final product is a highly trained specialist with a unique combination of broad scientific knowledge, general Internal Medicine training, superior endoscopic skills and experience, and the ability to integrate these elements to provide optimal health care for patients.


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