What is Gastroenterology?
A Medical Gastroenterologist is a specialist physician who has acquired additional training for an additional 2 to 3 years to become a super-specialist (sub-specialist) in the disorders of the digestive system. In South Africa a Gastroenterologist has trained from medical school, through internship, community service and then specialist training as a specialist physician first before being allowed to train as a gastroenterologist, to complete training after 15-16 years.
A gastroenterologist’s field of expertise include disorders of the entire digestive tract, from the oesophagus including swallowing disorders, the stomach and small bowel, the colon until and anus and disorders like ulcers, diarrhoea and constipation as well as bleeding involving these systems. The Liver and Gallbladder and pancreas disorders are also managed by him. Digestive disorders can have severe impacts on the quality of life of a person suffering with symptoms and appropriate management with improvement of symptoms is very rewarding for a gastroenterologist.
We are trained in endoscopic procedures including gastroscopy and colonoscopy and endoscopic ultrasound and ERCP, where endoscopes (pipes with fibre optic cameras) are used to look within the various organs mentioned above and used to treat conditions and often prevent the need for surgery. As endoscopic therapeutic training of gastroenterologists has improved, the need to refer patients for surgery has dwindled in some disorders resulting in fewer complications and less need for hospitalisation.