The medical discipline and practice of otolaryngology is a specialty that addresses conditions of the ears, nose, and throat. Another name for this practice is otolaryngology head and neck surgery.
Specialists in this field have training in surgery as well as medicine. Because otolaryngology involves the ears, nose, and throat, this type of specialist is also known as an otolaryngologist or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor.
Otolaryngology dates back to the 1800s. During this period, physicians realized that the head and neck regions of the body were interconnected.
A variety of techniques evolved for diagnosing and treating head and neck conditions and illnesses and thus a new specialty came about. Unlike many general practitioners, otolaryngologists are capable of undertaking surgical procedures on the tissues, muscles, and other components of the head and neck region.
Approximately 15 years of college and post-graduate studies are required for otolaryngologists to be trained and ready to practice.
More precisely, otolaryngologists-in-training have to finish college and medical school. Then they have to complete a minimum of five years of specialty training, and then pass the exam of the American Board of Otolaryngology.
If they are interested in a subspecialty of otolaryngology, then they have to continue with a one- or two-year fellowship.
In addition to their regular required undergraduate studies, otolaryngologist candidates must also complete medical academic prerequisites. These include such subjects as physics, chemistry, and biology. Also helpful are courses in written and oral communications.
In addition, otolaryngologist candidates would be at an advantage if they made certain career-oriented moves, such as undertaking medically related community service, following physicians, and becoming members of pre-medical organizations. Before graduating from regular university, future otolaryngologists should apply to medical school.
In their first year of medical school, otolaryngologist candidates will study anatomy and a variety of other disciplines, including histology, pathology, and the like. They will also take ethics courses, and will prepare for Objective Structured Clinical Exams, which can be used to assess them as health care professionals in clinical settings. While still classroom-based, the second year of medical school addresses the clinical setting more extensively. It is in their third and fourth years that students actually partake in clinical rotations and experience a range of specializations.
After successfully completing medical school, graduates who want to become board-certified specialists must complete five years of residency.
At this time, they will receive training in the diagnosis and treatment of ear, nose, and throat conditions. They will also gain experience in evaluating cancer and other conditions, and in learning about anesthesiology, surgical procedures, and pediatrics.
Finally, a license must be obtained. License requirements vary by country, and in the USA, by state. Exams are required.
A candidate should complete their residency in the state of intended practice. Otherwise, the student will have to study different regulations for the test.
Physicians must meet several requirements In order to become a board-certified otolaryngologist. They must:
- Hold a graduate degree from an accredited medical school or a school approved by World Health Organization (WHO)
- Be licensed to practice
- Have completed training for an ENT specialty (in the US, this is a requirement of the American Board of Otolaryngology)
- Pass an American Board of Otolaryngology exam
A big advantage for otolaryngologists: Unlike traditional doctors and clinicians, they not only receive training in medicine, but also in surgical procedures. They do not have to refer their patients to other doctors when their diagnosis calls for surgery involving the ear, nose, throat, head, or neck. They are probably the most qualified to address ear, nose, throat, head, and neck disorders.
Training otolaryngologists entails their planning and carrying out of the surgery and treatment of benign tumors, and of head and neck cancers. They must also undertake the reconstructive techniques required to restore function in these patients.
Most often, otolaryngologists deal with such conditions as adenoidectomies, tonsillectomies, infected parts of the temporal bone, and sinus disease. But they can also run hearing tests and determine the reasons for loss of hearing. Many also treat speech and communicative issues, as well as balance problems and allergies that are based in the upper respiratory tract.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc