Proctologist or Gastroenterologist. Is There A Difference?

Medically reviewed by: Gary H. Hoffman, MD

Did You Hear This One?

What are the real differences between a colon and rectal surgeon,  also known as a proctologist, and a gastroenterologist?

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There is an old joke known in medical circles.  It goes something like this:  What is the difference between an internist, a surgeon and a pathologist (a doctor who examines tissue under the microscope and makes a tissue diagnosis)?  An internist knows everything but can do nothing.  A surgeon knows nothing but can do everything.  A pathologist, knows everything, and can do everything, but is too late.  The actual joke is that these are stereotypes and physicians today are well trained in all aspects of patient care.  However there is a bit of truth in the joke.

Medical training has advanced tremendously in the last 100 years.  Big cities such as Los Angeles and Beverly Hills are full of highly competent doctors, able to diagnose and treat a wide spectrum of diseases.  Patients often turn to a proctologist, also known as  a colon and rectal surgeon for help with diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.

The Difference.  Big And Not So Big.  Collegiality.

Colon and rectal surgeons, formerly known as proctologists, begin as general surgeons, trained to treat all parts of the gastrointestinal tract.  They are board certified by the American Board of Surgery and may be members of The American College of Surgeons.  Proctologists then receive training above and beyond their general surgery experience.  They have expertise in all parts of the GI tract and have an increased knowledge of the small intestine, colon, rectum and anal canal.  They are well versed in using an endoscope or colonoscope to diagnose or treat disease.  Most importantly, colon and rectal surgeons have learned to treat all areas of the GI tract with medications or with surgery when necessary.  The training required 6 years after medical school, to complete.  Colon and rectal surgeons are thought of as a “one stop” center of excellence. A gastroenterologist has a similar didactic background and has had a similar training in the use of scopes.  The training lasts between 2 and 3 years following medical school.  Most are board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.  However, this is where the similarity becomes a bit cloudy.  Whereas surgeons can perform all types of treatments or interventions, whether with a scope, a pill or a scalpel, gastroenterologists are not trained in the operative treatment of diseases, nor do they perform any interventions in the operating room.

To be clear however, there is a large amount of overlap and collaboration between the two specialties.  It is a collegial and  mutually beneficial relationship that helps in returning their mutual patients back to the road of health.  A good physician always knows when to collaborate, and collaboration is common between the specialties.

Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates.

Through years of collaboration, the surgeons at Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates have worked with gastroenterologists in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Culver City and West Hollywood in order to help treat and cure patients with many different disorders.  A phone call is all that is necessary to begin your path to treatment.  Is there a difference?  Yes, but physician collaboration is the key to success.  (310)273-2310.

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