Postfellowship Pathways

Developing a career in medical pancreatology: An emerging postfellowship career path


Although described by the Greek physician Herophilos around 300 B.C., it was not until the 19th century that enzymes began to be isolated from pancreatic secretions and their digestive action described, and not until early in the 20th century that Banting, Macleod, and Best received the Nobel prize for purifying insulin from the pancreata of dogs. For centuries in between, the pancreas was considered to be just a ‘beautiful piece of flesh’ (kallikreas), the main role of which was to protect the blood vessels in the abdomen and to serve as a cushion to the stomach.1 Certainly, the pancreas has come a long way since then but, like most other organs in the body, is oft ignored until it develops issues.

Dr. Sajan Nagpal is assistant professor of medicine, director, pancreas clinic, University of Chicago.

Dr. Sajan Nagpal

Like many other disorders in gastroenterology, pancreatic disorders were historically approached as mechanical or “plumbing” issues. As modern technology and innovation percolated through the world of endoscopy, a wide array of state-of-the-art tools were devised. Availability of newer “toys” and development of newer techniques also means that an ever-increasing curriculum has been squeezed into a generally single year of therapeutic endoscopy training, such that trainees can no longer limit themselves to learning only endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) or intervening on pancreatic disease alone. Modern, subspecialized approaches to disease and economic considerations often dictate that the therapeutic endoscopist of today must perform a wide range of procedures besides ERCP and EUS, such as advanced resection using endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR), endoscopic submucosal dissection (ESD), per-oral endoscopic myotomy (POEM), endoscopic bariatric procedures, and newer techniques and acronyms that continue to evolve on a regular basis. This leaves the therapeutic endoscopist with little time for outpatient management of many patients that don’t need interventional procedures but are often very complex and need ongoing, long-term follow-up. In addition, any clinic slots available for interventional endoscopists may be utilized by patients coming in to discuss complex procedures or for postprocedure follow-up. Endoscopic management is not the definitive treatment for most pancreatic disorders. In fact, as our knowledge of pancreatic disease has continued to evolve, endoscopic intervention is now required in a minority of cases. This subspecialized yet comprehensive space has allowed the medical pancreatologist, someone interested in pancreatic disease but not a therapeutic endoscopist, to flourish.


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