A gastrointestinal doctor is a medical professional who specializes in the research, diagnosis, and treatment of various digestive system problems. Professionals have detailed knowledge about the different diseases, injuries, and symptoms that patients may have, and utilize sophisticated medical equipment to look for problems and provide treatment. Some doctors specialize by treating a particular category of conditions, such as cancers or bowel problems, or focus on a specific population of patients, such as children or the elderly. A gastrointestinal doctor might work in a hospital, medical clinic, private office, or a joint practice with other internal medicine specialists.
Problems with digestive organs, including the intestines, stomach, and liver, can range from mildly uncomfortable to severely debilitating. A gastrointestinal doctor is able to determine the severity and nature of symptoms by asking patients questions about their medical histories and lifestyles, conducting physical examinations, using ultrasound and x-ray equipment, and ordering laboratory tests on blood, stools, urine, and tissue samples. With the help of nurses and medical aides, a doctor is usually able to pinpoint symptoms, make diagnoses, and administer treatment. Depending on the cause of digestive problems, the physician might prescribe antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications, suggest healthy lifestyle changes, or recommend surgery to correct severe conditions. A gastrointestinal doctor treats a wide range of diseases and ailments, including Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and hemorrhoids.
Becoming a gastrointestinal doctor involves many years of education and clinical training. Professionals are required to earn doctoral degrees from accredited universities, which usually takes about four years after a completing a premedical bachelor's program. New doctors in the United States and many other countries typically hold one-year internships at hospitals and medical clinics after college to gain hands-on experience and better prepare for their eventual careers. After completing internships, they usually assume residencies that last up to six years. The first three years of a residency are completed in an internal medicine practice or hospital, and the final two to three years are spent in a strictly gastrointestinal medicine setting.
Most countries require new gastrointestinal doctors to pass licensing exams before they are allowed to practice independently. Exams typically cover medical terms, the different types of diseases and injuries they may encounter, ethics, insurance laws, and other aspects pertinent to providing quality care. Licensed doctors are often successful in joining a group practice or opening up their own facilities.