A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in treating the digestive system. When patients experience problems with the gallbladder, stomach, intestines, or pancreas, they often visit a gastroenterologist in order to receive medical treatment. People who wish to go into this career field are required to complete four years of medical school plus a three-year internal medicine residency. They must then successfully complete a two- to four-year fellowship in this field.
A fellowship in this particular field is an intensive program where a prospective gastroenterologist learns from experienced doctors specializing in problems of the digestive tract. Under the supervision of experienced gastroenterologists, the future specialist learns how to diagnose digestive diseases, treat a variety of medical problems, and teach patients how to prevent digestive diseases.
After completing a fellowship, the future gastroenterologist is considered board eligible. This means that the physician can take a gastroenterology board certification test. The test is administered by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Upon passing the exam, the physician becomes a board certified gastroenterologist.
Gastroenterologists must understand how the body digests food, how it absorbs nutrients, and how wastes are removed from the system. They are required to treat common ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gallbladder disease, ulcers, cancer, colitis, colon polyps, heartburn, and other conditions linked to the digestive system.
Patients of a gastroenterologist may sometimes have to submit to tests designed to examine the organs of the digestive tract. Two common tests used are the endoscopy and the colonoscopy. An endoscopy is a procedure that uses a long, flexible tube. A tiny video camera and light is attached to the tube. The gastroenterologist then guides the tube inside the upper digestive system in order to conduct a thorough examination.
A colonoscopy is used by the doctor in order to examine the interior of the large intestine. It is commonly used to diagnose colorectal cancer. The doctor uses a colonoscope, a long, flexible tube with a video camera and light attached. By using this instrument, the gastroenterologist can study the colon and rectum. The instrument allows the doctor to check for the presence of cancer, polyps, or inflammation.
Other tests used by this type of doctor include newer procedures such as a capsule endoscopy or CT colonography. A capsule endoscopy requires that the patient swallows a tiny camera so that pictures can be taken of the GI tract. A CT colonography permits the doctor to study radiological images of the patient's colon in order to screen for cancer or polyps.