A detailed look at a career in otolaryngology

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The dental exam room in the clinic in Tanzania. Otorhinolaryngology, head and neck surgery is a fascinating and diverse specialty that has more separate surgical procedures than most other surgical disciplines put together. It is more commonly known as ENT (ear, nose and throat) surgery and the physicians who train in this specialty are called otolaryngologists or ENT surgeons.

Essentially, it is the specialty of communication, involving hearing, language, speech, taste and olfaction. Otolaryngologists deal with patients across all ages, from neonates experiencing breathing problems through to loss of hearing and loss of faculties associated with old age.

Some ENTs also offer specialised services when it comes to neck and head injuries or surgeries.

Different Sub-Specialties in Otolaryngology

Some of the sub-specialties include:

Rhinology: Rhinology involves the medical management of sino-nasal disease and surgical removal of benign and malignant sinus disease.

Paediatric Otolaryngology: Paediatric Otolaryngologists deal with ear, nose and throat problems that occur in children. This includes the management the diagnosis and treatment of congenital head and neck abnormalities and reconstructive surgery of the airways. 

Laryngology: This specialty focuses on the diagnosis and management of voice disorders including treatment of professional voice users.

Head and Neck Surgery: Otolaryngologists who specialise in this field treat benign and malignant diseases of the head and neck and perform operations such as neck dissection, parotidectomy and laryngectomy. 

Thyroid and Parathyroid Surgery: This specialty focuses on the assessment, investigation and surgical treatment of thyroid and parathyroid tumours. 

Otology:  Otology encompasses the diagnosis and management of impaired hearing, removal of destructive disease of the middle ear and implantable hearing devices such as cochlear implants.

Facial Plastic Surgery: Otolaryngologists who specialise in facial plastic surgery train in a variety of skills from removal of simple skin lesions and surgery for prominent ears, to reconstruction of facial defects and resection of malignancies.

Sleep Medicine: This specialty focuses on managing various conditions that affect the throat, ears or nose which may disturb a person’s sleep.

Essential Skills & Personality Traits For This Field

Some of the essential skills and personal qualities that are essential in this field include:

  • The ability to listen to patients’ problems – especially those having difficulty communicating
  • The ability to work as part of a multi-disciplinary team
  • Solid manual and technical skills in the operating theatre.
  • The ability to make sound clinical judgements and decisions quickly and accurately
  • Competent information technology
  • Good management skills

Although otolaryngology is basically a surgical specialty, it has a very large outpatient medical base. It is one of the rare surgical disciplines that are ideally suited to flexible working. Emergency work is usually not very heavy.

Career Options & Job Prospects

As an otolaryngologist you can choose to work in a hospital or run a private practice. Those working in hospitals will often have to perform a number of surgeries a day. You could also choose to get into research work for various academic or government run institutions.

With a large amount of the population reaching retirement age and an equally large number of people suffering from sinus and ear, nose and throat problems, the entire ENT specialisation is expected to continue growing in demand for a number of years.

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