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Do you know what the medical title for an ear, nose and throat specialist is? Commonly referred to as ENT physicians, their technical name is an otolaryngologist. The word otolaryngologist derives from the Greek base words: oto (ear), rhino (nose), and laryn (throat). Otolaryngologists are trained in the medical and surgical diagnosis and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck.

Otolaryngologists' specialized skills include diagnosing and managing diseases of the sinuses, larynx (voice box), oral cavity, and upper pharynx (mouth and throat), as well as structures of the neck and face. Virtually all ear, nose and throat specialists routinely handle cases such as adenoidectomies, tonsillectomies, nosebleeds, infected mastoids and sinus disease. Most otolaryngologists have up to date audiologic equipment to test hearing and diagnose the cause of hearing loss. Others have a special interest in neurotology (the study of the nerves within the ear) and problems of balance such as vertigo.

Otolaryngolgists specializing in the ears usually treat hearing disorders, ear infections, balance disorders, ear noise (tinnitus), nerve pain, and facial and cranial nerve disorders. Also attached to the ears are infections of the tonsils and adnoids, a common infection amongst children. These days, new forms of microsurgery help correct deafness, such as cochlear implants.

Specialists who focus on the nose, treat patients with chronic sinusitis and care of the nasal cavity. Management of the nasal area includes alleviating allergies and restoring a sense of smell. Patients with allergic disorders of the upper respiratory system are treated with techniques such as RAST (radio-allergosorbent-test) and skin endpoint titration.

Throat specialists make sure that people can speak, sing and eat food. They manage and treat diseases of the larynx (voice box) and the upper aero-digestive tract or esophagus, including voice and swallowing disorders. They are trained as both clinical specialists and surgeons; therefore they can carry out surgery of benign and cancerous tumors of the voice box, neck and head.

Otolaryngologists who specialize in the head and neck, also treat problems with the sight sense. They treat infectious diseases, tumors, facial trauma, and deformities. Some are involved in cosmetic, plastic and reconstructive surgery. Techniques used for cosmetic facial plastic surgery include face and brow lifts, improving the shape and size of the nose or the ear, chin augmentation, wrinkle removal, scar camouflaging and hair transplantation.

Despite grouping the ear, nose and throat into separate groups, general otolaryngologists treat patients with all of these disorders. The broad and challenging scope of otolaryngology allows a choice of direction, in addition to providing the best in patient care.
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  Interests and Skills  
Otolaryngologists are interested in helping people with disorders of the ear, nose, throat, head and neck. They have the intellectual ability required to successfully complete the required 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.

Otolaryngologists should have excellent hand-eye coordination, enjoy finding solutions to problems, and directing the work of others. They must also be proficient in otolaryngolic medicine -- they must apply the knowledge to diagnose illnesses. Also, ethics are 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  
  • Diagnose and treat diseases of the ear, nose, throat, head and neck
  • Examine affected organs, using equipment such as audiometers, prisms, nasoscopes, microscopes, x-ray machines and fluoroscopes
  • Determine the nature and extent of the disorder and prescribe and administer medications or perform surgery
  • Perform tests to determine extent of loss of hearing due to aural or other injury, and speech loss as result of diseases or injuries to larynx
  • May specialize in treating throat, ear, or nose and be designated laryngologist, otologist or rhinologist.
  • Working conditions for otolaryngologists will vary, depending on where they work. For example, some are on call in a hospital; therefore they could be called in for emergency surgery at any hour of the night. Yet, those who work in their own private practice will be able to see patients on their own schedule, allowing for a good deal of flexibility.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Otolaryngologists work in hospitals performing surgery on those with ear, nose and throat infections and diseases. Others have their own private practice or a joined colleague practice and work in a clinical and office setting, meeting with patients. Some otolaryngologists might teach at universities and hospitals, conducting research, working in laboratories or working for pharmaceutical companies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
After the many years of school, training and residency that otolaryngologists must go through, chances are by the time they become professional doctors and surgeons, they will work in the field for a long time. Becoming an otolaryngologist is almost like getting a huge promotion to begin with. However, they can always learn new skills, add more patients, or change jobs.

Otolaryngologists may work as 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 an otolaryngologist 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 or three years of undergraduate studies. Check with the school for their requirements before applying.

Otolaryngologists complete four years of medical school and then complete a one-year internship in general studies. After that, they are required to complete a five-year residency program at a hospital and if they choose a subspecialty, one or two years of extra training.

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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