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Gastroenterology vs. General Surgery: Which Specialty is Right for You?

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by Yousmle Staff in Career

Gastroenterology vs. general surgery is one of the debates among medical students interested in physiology. Both specialties allow you to explore the complex workings of the human body and use your skills to improve patient outcomes. However, they also have significant differences, such as the scope of practice, the work environment, and the training requirements.

How do you decide which one is right for you? In this article, we will provide helpful information and tips to help you make an intelligent decision on gastroenterology vs. general surgery and find a fulfilling career that matches your interests and abilities. We will also help you evaluate practical factors such as job availability, salary, and training duration.

Gastroenterology vs. General Surgery: Salary and Job Security

Gastroenterology might be your specialty if you want to earn a lot of money and have a steady demand for your services. But be prepared for a competitive job market after fellowship, even if you graduate from a prestigious program.

General surgery, meanwhile, offers more job openings. You can easily find a hospital that needs general surgeons, and the career outlook is positive, even if the salary is not as high as gastroenterology. But general surgery also comes with some challenges, such as higher burnout and less job security, which we will discuss later.

Both gastroenterology and general surgery are high-paying medical specialties, but gastroenterologists typically earn a higher average salary. According to recent data, gastroenterologists earn an average annual salary of $501,000, while general surgeons have a lower average salary of $412,000.

Estimated Physician Average Yearly Salary by Medical Specialty in the US

Gastroenterologists earn $501,000 per year on average, while general surgeons earn less with $412,000 annually

Gastroenterology vs. General Surgery: Competitiveness

Here we can assess the competitiveness of a specialty by looking at the unmatched rate – the % of people who apply and do not match into their preferred specialty. For general surgery, the unmatched percentage among US Seniors was 18.4%, making it highly competitive among US residencies.

Gastroenterology vs. General Surgery

General surgery had an 18.4% unmatched rate, while internal medicine had a 2% unmatched rate among US seniors

To pursue a career in gastroenterology, you must first match into an internal medicine residency. Among US Seniors, the unmatched percentage for internal medicine residency was only 2%, making it less competitive than other residencies. However, this does not mean that gastroenterology is less competitive. After completing your internal medicine residency, you will still need to match into a fellowship, which is generally more competitive than matching into a residency. 

Below is the unmatched percentage among non-pediatric fellowships with >100 applicants. The unmatched percentage of US Seniors applying to the gastroenterology fellowship was 20.6%, making it highly competitive compared to most fellowships with >100 applicants.

Training Path: Fellowship vs Residency

To become a gastroenterologist, you must complete a three-year fellowship in gastroenterology after completing a three-year internal medicine residency. General surgery involves a five-year general surgery residency.

A gastroenterology fellowship is typically more competitive than a general surgery residency. Your USMLE scores, med school, and research are the main things for residency applications. Research is also a big thing for fellowship applications, and your residency program counts more, but your USMLE scores matter much less.

Gastroenterology vs. General Surgery: Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a crucial factor for many medical professionals. Gastroenterologists often enjoy a better work-life balance due to the nature of their work. They usually have more predetermined working hours, leading to more predictable schedules. In contrast, general surgeons who handle a wide range of surgeries, including emergencies, may have less predictable schedules and be required to be on-call duties at hospitals.

Gastroenterologists work an average of 52.3, ranking them in the middle of all medical specialties, while general surgeons work an average of 57.4 hours per week ranking them at the upper end.

Estimated Physician Weekly Working Hours by Medical Specialty in the US

Gastroenterologists work an average of 52.3 hours per week, while general surgeons work more hours, at 57.4 per week.

General surgeons require more documentation, such as referral letters and diagnostic tests, resulting in an estimated 15 hours of admin/paperwork per week. In comparison, gastroenterologists have only 13 hours, near the lower end of all medical specialties.

Estimated Physician Admin/Paperwork Hours by Medical Specialty in the US

Gastroenterologists work on admin/paperwork an average of 13 hours per week, while general surgeons work more hours, at 15 per week.

Training Duration and Subspecialties

The training duration is a key aspect to consider when choosing between gastroenterology vs. general surgery. General surgery has a five-year training period, while gastroenterology has a six-year training period with three years of internal medicine residency followed by a three-year gastroenterology fellowship

Additionally, gastroenterologists often pursue more subspecialty training in fields like advanced endoscopy or hepatology because of the scarce job opportunities. This can increase the length of your gastroenterology training.

Gastroenterology vs. General Surgery: Job Satisfaction and Burnout Rates

Job satisfaction plays a significant role in career fulfillment. According to various studies, gastroenterology tends to have higher job satisfaction rates than general surgery. Many gastroenterologists express contentment with their career choice and would choose it again if given the chance. Additionally, gastroenterology has a slightly lower reported burnout rate than general surgery.

According to recent data, gastroenterology ranked near the upper end of all medical specialties with 92% of gastroenterologists stating that they would choose the same specialty again, while general surgery ranked lower with 79% of general surgeons feeling the same way.

Job Satisfaction Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Gastroenterologists reported a 92% job satisfaction rate, while general surgeons reported lower satisfaction with 79%

The burnout rates for gastroenterology and general surgery were both above the middle of all medical specialties, with gastroenterology at 52% and general surgery at 51%.

Burnout Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Gastroenterologists have a burnout rate of 52%, while general surgeons have a slightly lower burnout rate of 51%.

Gastroenterology vs. General Surgery Comparison

To provide a visual overview, here’s a table comparing gastroenterology and general surgery:

AspectGastroenterologyGeneral Surgery
Average SalaryGenerally high salary as demand grows for procedures like colonoscopies.Generally high income but lower than gastroenterology
Job SecurityHigh demand due to the prevalence of gastrointestinal disorders
High demand due to the wide range of conditions treated
Training PathTypically involves 3 years of internal medicine residency followed by a 3-year gastroenterology fellowship

Typically involves 5 years of residency training
LifestyleTypically regular working hours, but may also have on-call duties
Varied; may involve on-call responsibilities, long working hours, and both outpatient and surgical procedures
Administrative PaperworkModerate documentation requirements for patient records and surgical plans Moderate documentation requirements
Job SatisfactionHighLower
Burnout RatesModerateModerate
PersonalityStrong communication skills for patient education
Good hand-eye coordination, ability to handle stress and pressure

Please note that this table serves as a general comparison. To determine the most suitable career for you, consider your personal and career priorities and goals.

Concluding Thoughts

Choosing the right specialty between gastroenterology vs. general surgery depends heavily on your priorities. To determine this, try reverse engineering your ideal life and identify your top priority. A helpful exercise is to write down the top five things you want to achieve in your career and personal life. Knowing these priorities will make finding a career that aligns with them easier. Often, the biggest obstacle is not a lack of knowledge about different fields but a lack of self-awareness about our own preferences.

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Want FREE Cardiology Flashcards?

Cardiology is key for impressive USMLE scores. Master cardiology from a Harvard-trained anesthesiologist who scored USMLE 270 with these 130+ high-yield flash cards. You’ll be begging for cardio questions - even if vitals make you queasy.