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The Guide to Becoming a Pulmonologist

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Trying to figure out which medical specialty is right for you? Wondering if becoming a pulmonologist is the right career choice? This post explains how to become a pulmonologist and why pulmonology is a great career path for MD graduates.

Pulmonology, also called pulmonary medicine, pneumology, respirology, respiratory medicine, thoracic medicine – is a broad field of medicine that mainly focuses on the respiratory system and its related disorders. Pulmonology is a subspecialty of internal medicine that deals with diseases associated with airways, lungs and respiratory muscles that help you breathe.

A pulmonologist or pulmonary disease specialist is a specialized physician who diagnoses, treats, and manages conditions associated with lungs, and upper respiratory tract, such as nose, mouth, voice box, throat, and windpipe. They treat a wide range of chest related diseases including asthma, pneumonia, tuberculosis, emphysema, COVID-19 pneumonia – to name a few.

Let’s discover why choosing a career in pulmonology is a good choice for MD graduates and what kind of education and training is required to become a pulmonologist.

What is a Pulmonologist?

Pulmonologists are internal medicine doctors who are responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, congenital disorders, and abnormal conditions of the respiratory system. They are capable enough to prescribe medications for severe allergies, sleep disorders, bronchitis, pulmonary hypertension, and cystic fibrosis.

Besides treating lung diseases, pulmonologists also provide critical care medicine and treat patients in urgent care and ICU. Some pulmonologists choose the subspecialty of interventional pulmonology to treat lung cancer, airway disorders and pleural diseases. Many pulmonologists gain special training for lung transplantation.

What Do Pulmonologists Do?

Pulmonologists work in hospitals, medical centers, emergency departments, intensive care and high dependency settings, nursing homes and private clinics. The main responsibilities of pulmonologists are:

  •         Examine patients with chest, breathing and cardiopulmonary problems
  •         Identify respiratory disorders and order tests for accurate diagnosis
  •         Interpret test results to identify abnormal findings and plan treatment
  •         Recommend effective treatment options, oral medications, inhalers, nebulization, and oxygen therapy
  •         Guide patients on how to improve their lungs health by making lifestyle changes
  •         Perform highly specialized diagnostic techniques to collect samples to treat chronic lung disorders
  •         Perform diagnostic imaging scan to identify patient’s medical condition
  •         Pulmonologists perform various special procedures such as pleural biopsy, thoracentesis, spirometry, airway ablation, bronchoscopy, pulmonary function test, and pulse oximetry test.

Pulmonologists and COVID-19

Pulmonology plays a key role in the diagnosis and management of COVID-19. During the pandemic period, pulmonologists played a significant role in diagnosis and management of COVID-19 patients. They perform bronchoscopy and pleural related procedures to diagnose and treat complications related to COVID-19. They get specialized training to treat COVID-19 pneumonia, shortness of breath, respiratory failure, and other complications related to COVID-19.

What Type of Education is Required to become a Pulmonologist?

Complete a Bachelor’s Degree

Becoming a pulmonologist requires years of education and training. You need to complete a bachelor’s degree and complete prerequisite courses required to get into Caribbean medical school and pursue a four-year medical school degree.

Apply to Medical School

Attending medical school is a little bit challenging for students as the medical school curriculum is rigorous. The first two years, students will take a basic sciences program to get a better understanding of respiratory, digestive, cardiovascular, nervous, and endocrine systems.

While in the last two years, students will take a clinical sciences program, shadow physicians in hospitals and perform clinical clerkships. Students will learn how to take care of patients and deal with complex clinical cases under the supervision of physicians and trained medical staff.

Complete a Residency Program

After pursuing an MD degree from a Caribbean medical university, students complete an internal medicine residency to get relevant experience. Students need to complete three years of internship to get specialized training in pulmonology. After completing internal medicine residency, residents are required to pass the internal medicine board certificate examination to get certification in pulmonology.

Get a Specialized Pulmonology Training

Completing an internal medicine residency program, residents are required to complete fellowship training in pulmonary medicine. It takes three years to complete fellowship training in pulmonary physiology, pulmonary immunology, and molecular biology. Completing the fellowship program, you should complete a second set of board certification exams in pulmonology. Once you get the certification, you are all set to practice in your state as a pulmonologist.

Career Prospects for Pulmonologists

Pulmonologists can work in different clinical settings, such as hospitals, medical centers, pulmonary rehabilitation centers, emergency care centers, critical care facilities, pediatric centers, and outpatient departments. Starting a private practice, conducting clinical research, joining medical universities to teach are also a few great career options for pulmonologists.

According to the American Thoracic Society (ATS), the demand for pulmonologists is increasing as respiratory disorders are the leading cause of hospital admission. It is expected that there will be more demand for pulmonologists, especially in pediatric subspecialty.

Becoming a pulmonologist is a rewarding and fulfilling career that helps patients to live and breathe. Upon completing a long and challenging educational path and training, you will be capable of becoming a certified physician who can work in different clinical, private practice and academic settings. The average salary for pulmonologists in the United States ranges from $249,354 and $345,799.

Final Thoughts

Pulmonology is an interesting field of medicine that allows you to learn about acute and chronic respiratory disorders. Becoming a pulmonologist is a good career choice as it allows you to diagnose and manage respiratory disorders and provide excellent patient care. The route to becoming a pulmonologist begins with successful completion of the MD degree program, so apply at WUSOM and pursue a career in respiratory medicine.

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