Otolaryngology, the oldest medical specialty in the United States, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery, is one of the few medical professions in which practitioners are trained in both medical and surgical management. An otolaryngologist specializes in ear, nose and throat problems, which is why they are also more often called ENT physicians.
Required Skills and Characteristics
Like all doctors, otolaryngologists need compassion to treat patients and family members with empathy and understanding. They need communication skills to explain complex medical issues and educate patients. An otolaryngologist might need to explain the anatomy of the inner ear or sinuses to a patient. They must review, process and integrate many pieces of information and monitor various aspects of care as well as the patient’s condition, so attention to detail is important. As surgeons, otolaryngologists need manual dexterity, good vision and eye-hand coordination. Physical stamina is required for long hours in the operating room. An otolaryngologist must also have good judgment and the ability to make quick decisions in an emergency.
The primary focus of any otolaryngologist is on diseases and conditions of the ears, nose, sinuses, larynx, mouth and throat. They might help a patient with hearing loss, remove nasal growths or throat cancers, fix a broken nose or manage a patient’s allergies. They will also treat ear infections or deal with a severe nose bleed. Some otolaryngologists specialize in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, helping children with birth defects or adults with facial injuries achieve a new appearance. Otolaryngologists see patients of all ages and both sexes, although some may choose to specialize in the care of children.
All secondary duties of an otolaryngologist relate to the primary function of health improvement. An otolaryngologist begins with a patient assessment and physical examination. Many of the problems their patients develop are diagnosed with an exam rather than lab or diagnostic studies, but if necessary, the otolaryngologist will order tests and lab work. Based on the findings of the assessment, exams and tests, the otolaryngologist develops a plan of care, such as medical or surgical management. All care must be documented in the patient’s record. Otolaryngologists might have other responsibilities such as taking emergency calls.
Education and Specialized Training
Like all physicians, otolaryngologists must complete college, medical school and residency. An otolaryngologist might spend as much as 15 years in training. The residency itself lasts five years, with training in basic surgical techniques for the first nine months, followed by 51 months of specialty training, according to American College of Surgeons. The ACS notes that otolaryngologists must spend at least one year of their training as a chief resident. Some of them may choose an additional one or two years of training in a specialty fellowship. They must be licensed to practice in all states, and most choose to become board-certified.
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