How to Become a Gastroenterologist

October 10, 2023
Contents

”Rohan

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

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

Reviewed: 10/10/23

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

When choosing a medical specialty, it’s essential to learn about multiple fields before deciding. If you find the digestive system particularly interesting, 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.” We’ll cover how to become a gastroenterologist, how many years it takes to become one, and more. 

Let’s get started!

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How to Become a Gastroenterologist: Step-by-Step 

Here’s our step-by-step guide on how to become a gastroenterologist.

Step 1: Decide If Gastroenterology Is Right for You

Selecting a medical specialty is a big decision. Before deciding on gastroenterology, ensure you weigh all 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: 

  • Do you have a strong interest in diseases of the digestive system? 
  • Do you have a connection to something in the gastroenterology field? 
  • Do you enjoy procedures but aren’t interested in performing surgery?
  • Are you comfortable and calm in emergency settings?

Dedication is required in gastroenterology, so it’s essential to understand how you feel about it before choosing the specialty. Consider speaking to professionals, shadowing, and volunteering in medical settings before deciding. Volunteering and shadowing are great resources for decision-making and bulking up your CV.

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor's Degree

Nearly all medical schools in the U.S. require a completed bachelor's degree to apply. Your college major doesn’t necessarily matter; what’s important is taking the necessary prerequisite courses for medical school. Commonly required courses for medical school are the following:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Mathematics
  • English

Each med school has unique prerequisite requirements. Before applying, research the requirements for each of your target schools. 

Beginning this process two years before you apply to med school gives you plenty of time to construct your course schedule accordingly. Taking all prerequisite courses also ensures that you’re prepared for the MCAT.

Step 3: Take the MCAT

Most med schools require the MCAT as part of your application. You should spend at least three months studying for the MCAT and give yourself several months after to retake the test if you’re unhappy with your initial results.

The highest possible MCAT score is 528, while the average MCAT score for entering MD students in the U.S. is 511. 

Image outlining the highest possible MCAT Score.

Many students retake the MCAT to ensure their score is competitive enough for their target schools. You can evaluate class profile data to determine if your MCAT score is competitive.

Step 4: Apply for Medical School

Now it’s time to apply for med school. Most schools require a primary application with other application materials, such as: 

Medical schools also often request interviews to make final decisions. 

The medical school application process is long and challenging. It’s essential to extensively research your target schools and put effort into your application. If you’re applying for med school and are seeking guidance, a consultation with an experienced admissions consultant can help.

Step 5: Complete a DO or MD degree

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

Most programs are four years long, with the first two years consisting of general science courses and the last two years focusing more on your areas of interest. Students typically spend the final two years of their degree taking courses 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. Most students also take the USMLE Step 2 in their final year before residency. 

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

Now you can begin applying to internal medicine or pediatrics residency programs. Completing a residency in one of these specialties allows you to attend a gastroenterology fellowship program upon completion. 

If a residency program is interested in your ERAS application, they’ll 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. After the residency program’s top choices are considered, the “Match” pairs each resident with programs on their list. 

Internal medicine residency programs are typically three years long, while pediatrics programs typically take four years. Of course, you should choose the specialty that best suits your interests.

Step 7: Complete a Residency Program

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

After your first year, you can complete the final step of your USMLE exam. Once you complete your residency program, you’ll 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 taught by renowned experts in a medical subspecialty. During your gastroenterology fellowship program, you can zero in on your specialty and focus on mastering your craft. 

The American College of Gastroenterology lists 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 possible. 

Since gastroenterology fellowships are rigorous, it’s crucial to maintain focus and take care of yourself before moving on. Once you’ve 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

You should have completed every step of the USMLE and two board certification exams by this point. 

However, some U.S. states have separate licensure requirements and must 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. 

How Much Do Gastroenterologists Make? 

We know that physicians are among the highest-paid positions, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average annual wage of physicians is $208,000 or greater. However, pursuing a subspecialty often results in higher pay than if you began practicing directly out of your residency. 

While it’s hard to estimate how much a gastroenterologist makes because of factors like experience, location, and workplace settings, the average annual salary for a gastroenterologist is estimated to be approximately $400,000

Should I Become a Gastroenterologist? Factors to Consider

These are some factors you should consider before you take the plunge and begin your gastroenterology journey. 

Education Length

Since there are no gastroenterology residencies, you’ll need to complete a fellowship program to become one, adding extra time to your journey. It takes 14 years to become a gastroenterologist, while other specialties, such as family medicine, take approximately 11 years to complete. 

While you shouldn’t let the length of your gastroenterology residency and fellowship shouldn’t completely guide your decision, it’s something to be mindful of. 

Competitiveness 

You must complete a two to three-year-long gastroenterology fellowship. It’s widely regarded as one of the most competitive internal medicine fellowships, so you’ll need to display excellence at every turn to boost your chances of attaining one. 

You Don’t Perform Surgery

For some future doctors, this is a win; others may be disappointed. Although you don’t perform surgery as a gastroenterologist, your daily tasks will still be varied. 

FAQs: Becoming a Gastroenterologist

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

1. What Does a Gastroenterologist Do?

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 Long Does It Take To Become a Gastroenterologist?

It takes approximately 14 years of education to become a gastroenterologist:  

  • Four years in college
  • Four years in medical school
  • Three to four years in an internal medicine or pediatrics residency
  • Two to three years in a gastroenterology fellowship program

While it’s a long road, it’s worth it if gastroenterology is your passion!

3. What Is the Average Salary of Gastroenterologists?

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 2023 is $414,288.

4. Are Gastroenterologists Happy?

Studies have shown that gastroenterologists report higher job satisfaction rates than other specialties. This may stem from the various tasks that gastroenterologists face, making for a less repetitive schedule than other specialties. 

5. Is Getting Into a Gastroenterology Fellowship Hard?

Gastroenterology fellowships, like most fellowships, are highly competitive and challenging to get into. 

6. 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 long

7. How Hard Is It to Become a Gastroenterologist? 

As with any medical specialty, becoming a gastroenterologist is no easy feat. Gastroenterology is a subspecialization that takes commitment. It’s exceptionally competitive and requires you to complete a fellowship program after residency. 

Gastroenterology fellowships are known for being rigorous.

8. What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Gastroenterologist? 

To become a gastroenterologist, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and an MD or DO. You’ll also need to complete a residency and fellowship, pass the USMLE, become board certified, and obtain medical licensure in your state. 

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. 

Make sure to do plenty of research on all medical specialties and subspecialties that interest you before deciding. Good luck!

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