A gastroenterologist, or GI doctor for short, is a physician that specializes in the digestive tract, which includes the stomach, bowels, pancreas, liver and gallbladder. They can help with a wide variety of issues like ulcers, diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, liver disease or cancer in your digestive organs.
Gastroenterologists can perform procedures such as endoscopies, colonoscopies, esophageal dilations, pancreas scans, liver scans and colectomies. You will generally meet with them in their office prior to any procedures.
Unless your insurance company requires a referral (which is becoming less and less common), you can always look into scheduling an appointment with a specialist on your own. You do not have to wait for a referral or “permission” from your doctor to do this. Seeing a gastroenterologist may be a good idea if you feel you are not getting adequate care or want a second opinion.
Gastroenterologists are sometimes confused with colorectal surgeons (formerly known as proctologists), which are surgeons that specialize in the colon, rectum or anus. A gastroenterologist may refer you to a colorectal surgeon if appropriate.
For someone to become a gastroenterologist, after medical school, they will do a residency in internal medicine, which usually lasts 3 years. After the residency, they take the American Board of Internal Medicine exam and then complete a 3 year gastroenterology fellowship. He or she will then obtain a license to practice in their state.