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How to Become a Proctologist: Your Guide to a Career in Colorectal Medicine

Editorial Team
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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How to Become a Proctologist

Embarking on the journey of how to become a proctologist requires a blend of rigorous education and dedicated training. Initially, one must earn a medical degree, which, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, takes an average of four years to complete. Following this, aspiring proctologists must secure a spot in a specialized training program, often referred to as a residency, which typically spans a duration of five to six years, as outlined by the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery. Mastery of the course material and clinical skills is essential before tackling the final hurdle: passing the medical licensing examination. Certification can be obtained through esteemed bodies such as the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery or the American Osteopathic Board of Proctology, ensuring that all proctologists meet the high standards required for this surgical specialty.

A proctologist is a specialist focused on the diagnoses and treatment of the rectum or anus. These doctors are often called colorectal surgeons. In practice, they often work closely with urologists. The rectum or anus is part of the digestive system and is the last six to eight inches (15.2 cm to 20.3 cm)of the colon.

The first requirement to become a proctologist is to complete medical school. All proctologists must be fully certified surgeons. This is required because most diseases of the rectum require surgery to correct. Medical school is typically complete after graduation from a bachelor degree program and is usually four to six years in length.

Proctology or colorectal specialty programs are available at a wide range of medical schools. In order to obtain admittance, you will need high marks in medical school, aptitude and references. This specialty is often organized within internal medicine programs.

The typical program for a proctologist is five years in length. It combines surgery and diagnostic courses, along with the residence requirements. The typical rotation during this program includes work in the oncology department. Although anal cancer is rare, colon cancer is not, and it is important for proctologists to be skilled in the detection and treatment of this condition.

Each state has specific requirements and doctors are required to write the medical license exam for each state they plan to work in. The certification and licensing examinations are typically quite long, as they cover a large amount of material. The questions can be both broad and quite specific. Studying for this examination requires time, effort and focus.

Upon successful completion, the proctologist can now begin to work. Most proctologists find their first position in a hospital. As surgeons, all proctologists are required to become affiliated with a least one major hospital in order to meet their patients' needs. They often develop their own private practice, where they can meet with patients, perform examinations and prepare for surgery. Increasingly, these doctors find positions in product development and research teams, due to their expertise in both surgery and the colon.

What is a proctologist?

A proctologist, also known as a colorectal surgeon, is a surgical specialist who diagnoses and treats disorders of the lower intestinal tract, which includes the colon, anus and rectum.

How do you know you need to see a proctologist?

Patients usually need a referral to see a proctologist, so you should visit your primary care physician if you're experiencing any discomfort relating to the anal or rectal region. This includes:

  • Loss of bowel control
  • Pain in the anal region
  • Itching or burning in the anus or rectum
  • Bleeding from the anus
  • Changes in stool
  • Foreign objects in the anus

What does a proctologist do?

A proctologist treats a variety of conditions, including:

  • Anal fissures: These are small tears in the lining of the anus and can result from passing hard or large stools. Symptoms include bleeding, itchiness and pain in the rectum.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: IBD is a group of inflammatory disorders of the digestive tract, which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. These can cause symptoms such as pain in the abdomen, bloating, diarrhea and anal bleeding.
  • Diverticulitis: This condition is the inflammation or infection of pouches in the intestines. Although it's more common after age 40, it can occur in younger adults and usually results from being overweight, smoking and not eating enough fiber.
  • Hemorrhoids: Resulting in itching, pain and bleeding, hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the rectum and anus. They're usually caused by straining during bowel movements, pregnancy or obesity. Stool softeners and a high-fiber diet are often effective in healing hemorrhoids.
  • Colorectal cancer: As the name suggests, colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. This cancer usually begins as noncancerous polyps which can spread if not detected in time. The most common symptoms include changes in bowel habits or stool consistency, abdominal pain and blood in the stool.

What types of procedures do proctologists do?

In addition to surgeries, proctologists also perform a variety of procedures to treat disorders of the rectum and anus. Many of these procedures, such as proctoscopy, involve inserting a hollow tube with a light at the end into the anus, where it can be used to test tissue samples. A proctoscopy is best for examining the anal canal and rectum and can be used to detect tumors, hemorrhoids, polyps and anal cancer.

Another common procedure is an endorectal ultrasound, which is known as the most effective diagnostic tool for detecting rectal cancer due to its low cost and ease of performance. In this procedure, an ultrasound probe is inserted into the anus, where soundwaves are used to detect abnormalities. It's most often used to detect polyps and cancer in the rectum.

Lastly, a digital rectal exam involves examining the rectum with a gloved finger to feel for any abnormalities. Although you may feel some slight discomfort during the test, it typically only lasts for a few minutes and comes with a very low risk of complications.

Proctologist vs Gastroenterologist: What's the Difference?

Although a proctologist and gastroenterologist treat some of the same conditions, they are different in terms of specialization. A proctologist is a highly specialized discipline that requires four years of medical school and five years of surgical residency. In surgical residency, a proctologist learns how to complete surgeries in all disciplines. Then, they will complete another year of training specifically for colorectal surgery, where they learn how to treat various disorders of the rectum and anus. Once a proctologist has completed these requirements, they must receive certification from the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery or the American Osteopathic Board of Proctology to be licensed to practice.

On the other hand, gastroenterologists complete four years of medical school, three years of residency and three years of gastroenterology fellowship. After completing these requirements, they must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination to be licensed to practice gastroenterology. Although not required, they can also obtain certification through the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery to further develop their career.

The main difference between proctologists and gastroenterologists is that gastroenterologists don't perform surgery. If a patient has a polyp that can't be removed endoscopically, he or she will be referred to a proctologist, where their polyp will be removed surgically. In addition, gastroenterologists treat the stomach, pancreas, liver and colon while proctologists treat the colon, rectum and anus.

Although a proctologist's main specialty is surgery, they also have non-surgical approaches to various diseases. For example, a proctologist may prescribe topical medications to treat hemorrhoids and will only perform surgery if the condition isn't responding to non-surgical treatments. Proctology and gastroenterology are both competitive fields that require many years of education and training.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Editorial Team
By Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.

Discussion Comments

By Esther11 — On Sep 30, 2011

I am glad there is a specialty to treat colon problems and that these proctologists are so highly trained.

Unfortunately, colon cancer is becoming more and more common in the aging group and also young people in their 40s and 50s.

I'm afraid the need for proctologists will be high in the years to come. It's good to know that some of them are going into the field of research. We need to find out what is causing this illness.

By Bertie68 — On Sep 29, 2011

To become a proctologist, it sounds like it takes about 10 years of school and interning and finally passing the medical license exam.

I don't understand why each state has their own specific exam. I would think that a universal test makes more sense. They should all be prepared to know about and preform all the same procedures. Anyone have a different opinion?

By JaneAir — On Sep 29, 2011

This job seems kind of gross, but the demand for proctologists is only going to increase as our population continues to age.

Most people elect to get colon cancer screening as they age into the late 50's and early 60's. So much of our population is made up of aging baby boomers right now! And someone is going to need to perform these tests on them. So if you're going to be a doctor, and decide to specialize in proctology, you'll probably always have work!

Editorial Team

Editorial Team

Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.
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