Gastroenterologist Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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A career as a gastroenterologist can earn you upwards of $189,000 annually, but is it worth the lengthy education requirements? Get the truth about the job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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The Pros and Cons of a Career in Gastroenterology

Gastroenterologists, also known as GIs, can use a variety of techniques and treatments to combat gastrointestinal illnesses and disorders. Read on for more information on the pros and cons of the field to see if gastroenterology might be the right career for you.

Pros of a Career as a Gastroenterologist
High pay (almost $298,000 median annual salary as of July 2015)*
Good job prospects (projected 18% job increase from 2012-2022)*
Often work in group practices, which provides backup and support*
Work in a healthy, sterile environment*

Cons of a Career as a Gastroenterologist
Admission to medical schools is highly competitive*
Over 10 years of schooling*
Long, possibly irregular hours*
Stressful conditions*
Excessive time on your feet*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Internal medicine is a medical specialty and gastroenterology is a subspecialty of internal medicine. It focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic disorders of the digestive system. Organs of concern can include the esophagus, stomach, colon and intestines. As a GI, your investigations may also take you into the area of hepatology, which is the medical science focusing on conditions and diseases of the liver. As part of your job, you'll examine patients and run tests to look for gastrointestinal conditions. Once you make a diagnosis, you may prescribe drug-based therapies in order to treat the disorder.

As a gastroenterologist, you may find a position with a group that specializes in one area of gastroenterology. For example, you can find hospitals that specialize in the treatment of children. There, you'd practice pediatric gastroenterology. You might also treat colon cancer at a hospital dedicated to cancer patients.

Salary and Job Growth Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), gastroenterologists earn high salaries. In 2014, the BLS determined the mean annual salary for all internal medicine physicians to be $190,000. Those who worked in a physician's office made a mean annual salary of around $224,000. In 2015, Payscale.com determined that the median annual wage specifically for gastroenterologists was about $298,000 . The BLS projected that job opportunities for physicians and surgeons were expected to increase 18% from 2012-2022.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

The road to becoming a gastroenterologist is a long one. You must first earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited school. Although there's no specified major, you should see to it that in addition to humanities and social sciences, your curriculum contains courses in chemistry, biology, English, physics and mathematics. Because competition for admission to medical school is stiff, it may be to your advantage to spend some time as a volunteer at a medical facility and participate in other extracurricular activities.

After you've earned your undergraduate degree, you must complete four years of medical school. Upon graduation from medical school, you'll need to complete a residency in your specialty of internal medicine, which usually takes about three years. You must then complete a 3-year fellowship in your subspecialty of gastroenterology. Generally, fellowship programs are divided in half between didactic and clinical instruction.

Licensing and Certification

All states require you to be licensed to practice medicine. Though requirements may vary somewhat by state, you must graduate from an accredited medical school and sit for the 3-part United States Medical License Examination.

You may practice once you've completed your fellowship. However, though voluntary, it may be wise for you to sit for the board certification exam in gastroenterology. Certification not only stands in testament to your accomplishment and professionalism, but it can be a requirement for employment in the field. You'll need to maintain certification by completing continuing medical education (CME) credits. In addition to in-person courses, organizations such as the American Gastroenterological Association offer online courses that fulfill CME requirements.

Job Postings from Real Employers

The most common requirement for getting a job as a gastroenterologist is that you be either board-certified or board-eligible. You may see this abbreviated in ads as BC/BE. Below are some examples of actual job postings made by employers for gastroenterologists in April 2012:

  • A health system in Nebraska is looking for a BC/BE gastroenterologist to fill a full-time position working with another gastroenterologist and a neurosurgeon in a team environment with occasional weekend duties. You must hold federal and state narcotics certificates, an unencumbered Nebraska medical license and basic life support (BLS) certification. Your responsibilities will cover both inpatient and outpatient evaluation and management.
  • A Kansas health system seeks a BC/BE candidate who holds a current, unencumbered license to practice medicine in Kansas. The position is open to foreign medical school graduates if they hold verification from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).
  • A gastroenterologist is needed to join two other gastroenterologists and a nurse practitioner in an established private practice in Nebraska. Partnership is available after two years with the practice. Applicant must have completed his or her residency and be qualified in endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
  • A single specialty practice in Pennsylvania is looking for a gastroenterologist. Joining three other physicians, two physicians assistants and a nurse, you'll split your duties between two office locations and provide hospital consults one day per week. Night and weekend calls are shared with other practice members. The practice has its own state-of-the-art, fully comprehensive endoscopy center.

How Can I Stand Out?

Get Certified

Perhaps the most obvious way you might set yourself out from the pack is to become a board-certified gastroenterologist. This presents you as a complete package to potential employers and lets them know that you're dedicated to the profession. Since certification carries with it the responsibility that you continue your education, this serves to inform your potential employers that you're willing and able to keep up with the latest advances in the field.

Specialize

Another way in which you might distinguish yourself from other gastroenterologists is to specialize further. Following your gastroenterology 3-year fellowship, you can find schools that offer 1-year clinical fellowships in areas such as endoscopy and transplant hepatology.

You could also choose to further your skills in an additional subspecialization. You can complete another full 2-3 year fellowship program in a related area such as gastrointestinal oncology, gastric medicine, gastrointestinal radiation or hepatobiliary medicine.

Other Career Paths

Internist

If you want a career with slightly less training requirements, consider becoming an internist. Your training covers the same ground that it would if you were training to become a gastroenterologist, except that after you complete your residency in internal medicine, you won't participate in a fellowship program. Internists are also known as doctors of internal medicine and often function as a primary care physician for adults, according to the American College of Physicians. During their residencies, internists study the discovery, diagnoses, treatment and prevention of adult diseases. In addition to the digestive and nervous systems, their areas of concern include the diagnosis and treatment of heart, blood and kidney disorders and infections and cancers. Their training also encompasses issues such as wellness, substance abuse and mental health.

One of the pros of becoming a general internist is that you're trained in a little bit of everything. You see all sorts of patients and deal with various complaints rather than focusing on one specialty. While this can make the job interesting and exciting, it can also be frustrating in that the hours can be excessive. It can also be stressful trying to help patients without knowing exactly what's wrong with them. Because they may serve as primary care physicians, internists may find themselves on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Oncologist

If you have a specific interest in helping cancer patients, consider becoming an oncologist. Oncology is another subspecialty of internal medicine. It too requires that you complete a 3-year fellowship once you've been licensed to practice medicine and have been certified in internal medicine. Oncologists deal with the detection, treatment, cure and prevention of cancer. An important part of the oncologist's focus is on trying to determine who is likely to get cancer by studying factors such as life style, heredity, and physical makeup of individuals.

The idea of doing research and investigation in order to determine a likelihood of cancer can be both a pro and con of an oncology career. On one hand, you may be able to develop new treatment protocols that may minimize the likelihood cancer occurrences or effectively treat existing cancer. On the other hand, dealing with cancer patients of all ages who may be terminal can be extremely stressful emotionally.

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