- The variety of diseases in the field of gastroenterology is vast—from autoimmune diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease and autoimmune hepatitis, to the everyday complaints of gastroesophageal reflux and constipation.
- Nutrition is also an important component of gastroenterology, and this can involve various interventions to supply nutrition, from simple oral supplements to running parenteral nutrition.
- One of the unique skill sets of this medical specialty is endoscopy. Gastroenterologists have a variety of scopes to examine the upper and lower GI tract.
- The training and education to become a gastroenterologist typically takes around 14 years. That time includes 4 years in undergrad, 3–4 years in medical school, a 3-year residency in internal medicine, and 3 years in a fellowship in gastroenterology.
- The journey to becoming an gastroenterologist can be challenging, as it is a specialized field and can be competitive to enter in a fellowship, so you'll need to be a strong applicant!
- According to Salary.com, gastroenterologists in the U.S. make $407,854 per year on average.
Hours of studying and hard work have gone into your education so far, and now it's time to make a decision! Maybe the most important decision you've had to make: what specialty do you want to go into?
To help provide you with details on each specialty, we have conducted interviews with board-certified physicians who share the details about their professional journeys. We'll cover 7 things you should know if you're wondering how to become a gastroenterologist.
To read our full interview with Mark Corkins, MD go to the Gastroenterology: Career Focus section in your Medical Student Core.
1. What do gastroenterologists do?
The variety of diseases in the field of gastroenterology is vast—from autoimmune diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease and autoimmune hepatitis, to the everyday complaints of gastroesophageal reflux and constipation. Nutrition is also an important component, and this can involve various interventions to supply nutrition, from simple oral supplements to running parenteral nutrition. The gastroenterologist also cares for patients with liver and intestinal failure before and (if it comes to that) after transplantation.
One of the unique skill sets of this medical specialty is endoscopy. Gastroenterologists have a variety of scopes to examine the upper and lower GI tract. This can be as simple as a diagnostic procedure with biopsies of the lining or complex interventions with dilations, injections, and feeding tube placement. Although not considered a surgical field, the procedures are not as easy as they appear and require a lot of practice.
2. How do I become a gastroenterologist?
To become a pediatric gastroenterologist, you need to complete a general pediatric residency and then a fellowship in pediatric gastroenterology. Adult gastroenterologists need to complete an internal medicine residency and a fellowship in adult gastroenterology.
Mark Corkins, MD, Pediatric Gastroenterologist and Medical Student Core Contributor chose a career in pediatric gastroenterology because he love the variety of the field.
"I loved the fact that the field had so much variety. There are “simple” common diseases and then very specific diseases that we treat. I personally also loved nutrition and the importance of the basic nutritional needs to the eventual health of the child. Of course, endoscopy is a lot of fun. Getting all the way through the colon and then getting into the small bowel from below is not as easy as it looks.” Mark Corkins, MD, Pediatric Gastroenterologist, Medical Student Core Contributor
3. How long does it take to become a gastroenterologist?
The training and education to become a gastroenterologist typically takes around 14-15 years. That time includes 4 years in undergrad, 3–4 years in medical school, a 3-year residency in internal medicine or pediatrics, 3 years in a fellowship in gastroenterology, and optional additional fellowship to further subspecialize.
Steps to become a gastroenterologist:
- Complete a Bachelor's degree (4 years)
- Attend medical school and earn a medical degree (4 years)
- Complete a residency program in internal medicine or pediatrics if you are interested in becoming a pediatric gastroenterologist (3 years)
- Complete a fellowship program in gastroenterology (3 years)
- Optional additional fellowship to further subspecialize (1 year)
After completing your gastroenterology fellowship, there are a variety of further subspecialty fellowship options available. These options include hepatology, advanced endoscopy, transplant hepatology, and IBD fellowship among others.
Of course, the amount of time can vary depending on your individual circumstances, like how many years you take to complete medical school or the length of the fellowship training.
4. Is it hard to become a gastroenterologist?
Becoming a gastroenterologist requires a significant amount of education and training—it takes about 14-15 years to become a full fledged gastroenterologist! Some might be intimidated by the 3 year fellowship following the 3 year residency. The journey to becoming an gastroenterologist can be challenging, as it is a specialized field and a highly competitive fellowship to match into, so you'll need to be a strong applicant.
Fellowship programs will be looking for those who excel academically, have research experience, strong recommendations, and competitive board scores. It might also be beneficial to attend gastroenterology conferences for networking opportunities and to present research (a great resume booster!)
The amount of research experience required to match into a gastroenterology fellowship can vary widely depending on the program and applicant pool. However, having research experience can certainly strengthen your application and increase your chances of matching with a program.
People interested in gastroenterology must also be lifelong learners, as they must stay up-to-date with the latest research and developments. If you have a passion for gastroenterology and are willing to put in the time and effort required, it is a rewarding and growing career!
5. Is being an gastroenterologist a fulfilling career?
We asked Dr. Corkins what he likes about being an pediatric gastroenterologist and here's what he said:
"Every day can bring you something different. Personally, I love interacting with children and making something complex simple enough even a child can understand the basics." Mark Corkins, MD, Pediatric Gastroenterologist, Medical Student Core Contributor
Others who go into gastroenterology like that it offers a unique blend of medical practice and procedural skills. It covers a vast range of organ systems and pathologies, including luminal, pancreaticobiliary, and liver. As a result, it is a specialty that is always engaging, and there is never a dull moment.
6. What personality types succeed in gastroenterology?
Dr. Corkins jokes that someone interested in gastroenterology (specifically pediatric gastroenterology) needs to be able to have a sense of humor and not take themselves too seriously.
"To be a pediatric gastroenterologist you can’t take yourself too seriously. You have to talk to children about pooping and use words like 'turd.' Although laid back and fun-loving, they tend to be 'anally retentive' about the details of patient care." - Mark Corkins, MD, Pediatric Gastroenterologist, Medical Student Core Contributor
7. Average gastroenterologist salary
According to Salary.com, gastroenterologists in the U.S. make $407,854 per year on average.
Each section in the Medical Student Core features a Career Focus section that outlines the details of a career in that specialty. You'll see an overview of the specialty as well as an interview with a specialist about their chosen field. Each of these paint a clear picture of what your future holds should you venture down that path.
Start studying with the Medical Student Core now to see the entire Gastroenterology Career Focus section.
Read other specialty description blogs: