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Some days people will eat a variety of foods that may not be the healthiest choices - french fries, chocolate bars and tempura all in one day often results in an upset stomach. Many of us have eaten a whole bag of cookies at some point, ending up with a painful stomach ache. Indeed, we all enjoy junk food, however it is important to stop and think about what we are putting into our stomachs. When was the last time you asked your stomach, instead of your brain, what it felt like eating? As a result of a number of factors, many people have digestive and stomach problems. Gastroenterologists are the doctors who study disorders affecting the stomach, intestines, and associated organs.

The digestive system works towards the digestion, absorption, and assimilation of fluids, vitamins and minerals, and the elimination of waste from the gastrointestinal tract. All of the food and drink that we ingest is broken down by our digestive system into smaller simple molecules before it is absorbed by the small intestine and transported into the bloodstream that carries the nutrients to cells throughout the body. When there is a hindrance within the digestive tract; people will feel symptoms such as bloating, constipation, stomach cramps or severe diarrhea.

While some stomach problems arise from a poor diet, there many other factors involved with digestive disorders, such as genetics or contracting a stomach-related disease or parasite. Various conditions of the stomach and associated organs are lactose intolerance, colitis, Crohns, cystic fibrosis, gallstones, constipation, cancer, ulcers, severe weight loss and liver disease. Gastroenterologists diagnose and treat symptoms and use a variety of tests, including x-rays and endoscopy, to study the intestines and livers of patients who visit them.

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, describes two similar yet distinct conditions called Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. These diseases affect the digestive system and cause the intestinal tissue to become inflamed, form sores and bleed easily. Symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping, fatigue and diarrhea.

Gastroenterologists examine patients with various symptoms and diagnose various digestive disorders. One examination method they use is called a colonoscopy. The term colonoscopy literally means looking inside the colon. It is a procedure that takes a camera into one's digestive tract to evaluate problems such as blood loss, pain, and changes in bowel habits such as chronic diarrhoea or abnormalities that may have first been detected by other tests. A colonoscopy can also identify and treat active bleeding from the bowel.

Once a gastroenterologist has diagnosed a patient, they often administer different treatments to the patient, depending on the results of tests. Sometimes they will suggest medications or various alterations in lifestyle and eating habits. If the situation is very grave, the gastroenterologist may refer the patient to a surgeon or to a team of liver transplant surgeons. Finally, not all gastroenterologists work with patients on a day-to-day basis, but instead they teach at universities or even do research on the digestive system.
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  Interests and Skills  
Gastroenterologists are interested in helping people, first and foremost. They have the intellectual ability required to successfully complete the academic training and to pursue a course of lifelong learning, and the stamina required to work long hours. They have excellent communication skills and can get along with people well and instill confidence. They will need emotional strength and maturity, and passion, empathy and energy.

Gastroenterologists should enjoy finding solutions to problems, dealing with people, and directing the work of others. They must also be proficient in medicine of the stomach and intestinal tract - they must have and apply the knowledge to diagnose illnesses. Also, ethics is a strong point for these types of people because they have to do what is right for their patients with their best interests in mind.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Examine patients, order laboratory tests, x-rays and other diagnostic procedures
  • Perform medical procedures such as colonoscopy, x-rays and endoscopy
  • Prescribe and administer appropriate medications and treatments, which may involve giving simple advice or coordinating more complex treatment or rehabilitation programs
  • Advise and counsel patients on health care, diet, hygiene and preventative health care and discuss treatment methods
  • Coordinate their work with nurses, social workers, rehabilitation therapists, pharmacists, psychologists and other health care providers
  • Teach medical students and other health professionals
  • Gastroenterologists' working conditions depend on where they work. Yet most work long days, about 60 hours per week. They may work rotating shifts or be on call. When on call, they can be called into the hospital at any time, day or night. Some also work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients' schedules. In a typical day, most gastroenterologists see a succession of patients, and may spend a considerable amount of time doing paperwork. This occupation can be both emotionally demanding and emotionally rewarding.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most gastroenterologists work in private practice or with a group of other specialists. Some are employed by regional health authorities, hospitals, research facilities, occupational medicine centers, or overseas in military service.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Gastroenterologists can learn new skills, add more patients, or change jobs. They may work primarily as surgeons, directors of research, hospital administrators, medical school administrators, and teachers in medical schools and residency programs. They may manage clinics or do research for pharmaceutical companies. They may also write and publish in scientific and medical journals or take jobs in medical public relations.

  Educational Paths  
Becoming a gastroenterologist requires a long educational road, so be prepared for a lifelong learning experience. Most start with a Bachelor of Science degree, however some Bachelor of Arts graduates may be accepted into medical school programs. While in high school, take math and science classes. Also, not all medical schools require a bachelor's degree and with good marks, some students can get accepted after two years of undergraduate study. Check with the school for their requirements before applying.

Gestroenterologists complete four years of medical school and then spend two or three years in a residency program. Completion of the qualifying licensing examinations is required to practice medicine. Licensure by the regional licensing authority is required.

Finally, before entering medical school, volunteer in a hospital, nursing home or community center. This will give you valuable experience in dealing with people who need help and what it is like to work as a doctor.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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