I went into medical school wanting to do nothing except ENT. My passion for medicine began with my younger brothers’ journey with bilateral cochlear implants. The impact his doctor, audiologist, and speech language pathologist made on our lives stuck with me. Even at that young age, I set a future goal, to impact at least one other family in that same way.
ENT or otolaryngology, pronounced oh/toe/lair/in/goll/oh/jee is the practice of diseases of the ears, nose, and throat. However, ENT physicians are experts of the entire anatomical area of the head and neck and everything that encompasses it. Unlike other specialties, ENT is not an organ-based practice. In other words, we are trained and responsible for any medical, oncological, traumatic, congenital, or cosmetic treatments/surgeries within the head and neck. From medical management of sinusitis; to skull based tumor resections. From rhinoplasty and Botox; to facial trauma reconstructions. From parotitis; to microvascular flap reconstructions for oropharyngeal cancer. From evaluation of audiograms; to cochlear implantations. Bet you didn’t know that!
While ENT is a specialty, there are many subspecialties within the field that offer fellowships. The current available fellowships are:
Fellowships aren’t required however, as the residency programs do a great job of training in all aspects of practice. The other great thing with ENT is that fellowships do not have to be ACGME accredited; so like me if you want to only do pediatric cochlear implants, all you have to do is find the right person to train you after residency!
The residency itself is 5 years long, like many surgical specialties, and I’m not going to lie, it’s a long 5 years. The learning curve is extremely steep, because I don’t know about ya’ll but we only spent a total of 4 hours on head and neck in medical school! Being a competitive residency, most programs only accept 2-3 residents per year. Which means we don’t have enough residents overall to have a night float, so we have primary call. Primary call: you work your normal 6 a.m.-5p.m. shift, and every 4th -5th day also take all consults and nursing pages from home between 5p.m.-6p.m., oh and did I mention that you again work your normal shift the next day? Primary call is exhausting but there is only two years of it!
Once you’re done with residency though, you will never be out of a job! The demand for Otolaryngologist is rising every single year, and as there are only a hand-full of graduates per year, you hold a lot of power when finishing residency. Life outside of residency is very different for an ENT physician. Unlike other surgical specialties, ENT’s can choose to work in private practices, completely based in surgical centers, with a 4-day work week, and no call! On the other hand, if you’re a work junkie you can work as many as 7 days a week, with long workdays, and multiple calls per month. While people don’t believe that surgeons can have a life, the flexibility of this career is suitable for anyone. You can be single and travel around the world or have a successful family life, or both, all while leading a successful practice in otolaryngology.
While residency has been tough, I have no regrets on my decision to pursue ENT. The flexibility with my patient population, types of cases, and work hours in the future is the light at the end of the tunnel. But while I’m here, struggling daily in residency, the occasional “thank you” and hug that I get from appreciative patients is enough to keep me going!