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How to Become a Gastroenterologist

June 15, 2022
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How to Become a Gastroenterologist: Step-by-StepHow Hard Is It to Become a Gastroenterologist?How Long Does It Take to Become a Gastroenterologist?FAQs: How to Become a Gastroenterologist


Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Chief Resident in Anesthesiology, Weill Cornell Medicine, & Admissions Officer, Columbia University

Reviewed: 6/15/22

Are you thinking about becoming a Gastroenterologist? Here’s everything you need to know about the field, including a step-by-step guide on how to become a Gastroenterologist. 

When it comes to choosing a medical specialty, it is essential to inform yourself about multiple fields before making a final decision. If the digestive system is a particular area of interest for you, you may consider a residency in gastroenterology.

The American College of Gastroenterology defines a gastroenterologist as a “physician with dedicated training in management of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and liver.” In this article, we’ll cover how to become a gastroenterologist, how many years it takes to become a gastroenterologist, and more. 

Let’s get started!

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How to Become a Gastroenterologist: Step-by-Step

Here is our step-by-step guide on how to become a gastroenterologist step-by-step. Each step listed below is a necessary part of the process.

Step 1: Decide if Gastroenterology is Right for You

Selecting a medical specialty is a big decision. Before deciding on gastroenterology, make sure to weigh all of the possibilities and consider the pros and cons of each. You can ask yourself these questions to determine how passionate you are about the program: 

Dedication is required in the field of gastroenterology, so it’s essential to understand how you feel about it before choosing the specialty. 

Consider speaking to professionals, shadowing, and volunteering in gastroenterology settings to help you make your decision. Volunteering and shadowing are great resources for decision-making and look excellent on your CV.

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor's Degree

Nearly all medical schools in the US require a completed bachelor's degree to apply. Your major during your bachelor’s degree doesn’t necessarily matter; it’s important to take the necessary prerequisite courses for medical school. Commonly required courses for medical school are the following:

Each US medical school has unique prerequisite requirements. Before applying to medical school, it is essential to research the requirements for each of your target schools. 

Begin this process two years before you apply to medical school to give yourself plenty of time to construct your course schedule accordingly. Taking the necessary prerequisite courses will also ensure that you are prepared for the MCAT.

Step 3: Take the MCAT

Most United States medical schools require the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) as part of your application. You should give yourself at least three months to study for the MCAT and several months to retake the test if you are unhappy with your initial results.

The highest possible MCAT score is 528, while the average MCAT score for entering MD students in the US is 511. Many students retake the MCAT to ensure their score is competitive enough for their target schools. To determine if your MCAT score is competitive, take a look at each of your target school’s class statistics. 

Step 4: Apply for Medical School

Once you’ve completed your prerequisites for your bachelor’s degree and taken the MCAT, it’s time to apply for medical school. Most schools require the AMCAS application alongside other application materials such as: 

Medical schools also often request a video or in-person interview to make their final decisions. 

The medical school application process is long and challenging. It is essential to do extensive research on your target schools and put your heart into your application. If you are applying for medical school and are seeking guidance, try setting up a consultation with an academic advisor or an experienced admissions consultant.

Step 5: Complete a DO or MD degree

Once you’ve been accepted into an accredited osteopathic or allopathic medical school, you can complete your DO or MD degree.

Most medical school programs are four years in length, with the first two years consisting of general science courses and the last two years focus more on your areas of interest. Students typically spend the final two years of their degree taking courses that are tailored to their interests. 

After your second year of medical school, you’ll also take Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), the first of three licensing exams you’ll need to complete throughout your education. Most students also take Step 2 of the USMLE in their fourth year before moving on to residency. 

Step 6: Apply for a Residency in Internal Medicine or Pediatrics

Once you’ve graduated from medical school and completed steps one and two of the USMLE, you can begin applying to internal medicine or pediatrics residency programs. Completing a residency in one of these specialties will allow you to attend a gastroenterology fellowship program upon completion, where you can focus solely on the subspecialty. 

To apply for residency programs, you’ll typically need to complete an ERAS application (unless a program has provided its own separate application). If a residency program is interested in your application, they will most likely ask you for an interview or additional application materials. 

After completing all of your interviews (and submitting additional material if necessary), both parties can move on to the matching process. 

Using the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) system, you can create a rank order list to name your target residency programs in order of preference. Once the residency program’s top choices are taken into consideration, the “Match” pairs each resident with one of the programs on their list. 

Internal medicine residency programs are typically three years in length, while pediatrics programs typically take four years. Of course, you should choose the specialty that best suits your areas of interest and what you are passionate about. 

Step 7: Complete a Residency Program

As mentioned above, to complete a gastroenterology fellowship, you’ll have to complete a residency in either internal medicine or pediatrics. 

You should choose to complete your residency based on the types of patients you want to work with in the future. Either one of these programs will teach you what you’ll need to know going into a gastroenterology fellowship program. 

After the first year of your residency, you will be able to complete the third and final step of your USMLE exam. Once you complete your residency program, you will need to become board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP) or the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM).

Step 8: Complete a Gastroenterology Fellowship 

Fellowship programs are highly selective educational opportunities that are taught by renowned experts in a medical subspecialty. During your gastroenterology fellowship program, you can really zero in on your specialty and focus on mastering your craft. 

The American College of Gastroenterology keeps a list of gastroenterology educational opportunities and information on its website. 

Use your time in your fellowship program to make connections, gain hands-on experience, and absorb as much information as you can. Since gastroenterology fellowships are known to be rigorous, it’s crucial to maintain focus and take care of yourself before moving on to the next phase of your career. 

Once you have completed your gastroenterology fellowship program, you must pass the board certification exam administered by the American Board of Internal Medicine

Step 9: Obtain a Medical License

By the time you have completed medical school, residency, and gastroenterology fellowship, you should have completed every step of the USMLE and two board certification exams. 

However, some US states have separate requirements for licensure and need to verify your documents before granting a medical license. You should apply for state licensure in every state you intend to work in to avoid delays or confusion later on. 

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How Hard Is It to Become a Gastroenterologist

As with any medical specialty, the road to becoming a gastroenterologist is no easy feat. Gastroenterology takes a lot of commitment, as it is a subspecialty. This means that it is exceptionally competitive and requires you to complete a fellowship program after residency. 

To become a gastroenterologist, you must complete a medical degree, an internal medicine or pediatrics residency, and a gastroenterology fellowship program. Gastroenterology fellowships are known for being rigorous in nature and are taught by nationally and internationally recognized experts in the field. 

How Long Does It Take to Become a Gastroenterologist

It takes about fourteen years of education in total to become a gastroenterologist: four years in a bachelor’s degree, four years in medical school, three to four years in an internal medicine or pediatrics residency, and two to three years in a gastroenterology fellowship program.

FAQs: How to Become a Gastroenterologist

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about gastroenterology. 

1. What is a Gastroenterologist?

A gastroenterologist is a physician who studies, diagnoses, and treats diseases of the digestive system. Gastroenterologists deal with diseases in all parts of the digestive system, including the stomach, esophagus, rectum, colon, small intestine, pancreas, bile ducts, gallbladder, and liver.

2. How Much Money Do Gastroenterologists Make?

Gastroenterology salary in the United States ranges between $334,382 and $467,727 per year, depending on location, experience, and individual institution. The average gastroenterologist’s salary in 2022 is $396,109.

3. Is Getting Into a Gastroenterology Fellowship Hard?

Gastroenterology fellowships, like most fellowships, are highly competitive and challenging to get into. Medical fellowship programs are taught by renowned specialists who are highly trained experts in their field. 

4. Do You Need a Fellowship and a Residency For Gastroenterology?

Gastroenterology is a subspecialty and therefore requires a fellowship program post-residency. Gastroenterology fellowship programs are typically two to three years in length. 

Final Thoughts

Becoming a gastroenterologist is not an easy path and requires passion, patience, and dedication. If you have a keen interest in the digestive system and want to attend a fellowship program after residency, gastroenterology may be the right choice for you. 

Make sure to do plenty of research on all medical specialties and subspecialties that interest you before making a final decision.

Good luck!

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