What is Otolaryngology?

An otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon is a Medical Doctor who specializes in disorders of the head and neck, especially those related to the ear, nose and throat (hence the common abbreviation "ENT"). Otolaryngology is actually abbreviated from an even longer name: otorhinolaryngology. The latter derives from three Greek base words: oto - ear, rhino - nose, and laryn - throat.

In the past 50 years, otolaryngology has expanded from "ears, noses and throats" to a regional specialty of the head and neck. Our physicians now subspecialize in more than a dozen areas including otology, neurotology (the study of the nerves within the ear), plastic surgery of the face and neck, nasal and sinus disorders, voice and swallowing, audiology, and upper airway obstruction.

What Do Otolaryngologist - Head and Neck Surgeons Do?

Our otolaryngologists have a thorough knowledge of the anatomy, physiology, neurology, biochemistry, bacteriology, pharmacology and pathology of all the organs and physical structures in the head and neck region. In addition to providing medical care in the office, otolaryngologist - head and neck surgeons are also experts in many types of surgery. These include a great variety of surgical procedures in the daily treatment of the ear, nose, skull base, sinuses, pharynx, larynx, oral cavity, neck, thyroid, salivary glands, bronchial tubes and esophagus, as well as cosmetic surgery of the face and neck.

Those specially trained in ear work are well equipped to restore hearing through microsurgical procedures. They may perform stapedectomy operations (on the smallest bone in the body) or other operations used to correct deafness such as surgically inserting a cochlear implant (a small electrode placed within the inner ear to help the severely hard of hearing).

Surgical techniques used by these specialists can also cure disease and infection and repair deformities present in the ear since birth. With their extensive knowledge of the head and neck, many of our otolaryngologists are also proficient in facial plastic surgery. This is important for reconstructing the nose, ears, jaw and facial area to restore function and appearance. Grafts, flaps and plastic material are used to solve many surgical problems, in both children and adults. 

Please see the Health Topics menu (on the navigation bar) for further information about the conditions our physicians treat.

What Training Is Required to become an Otolaryngologist - Head and Neck Surgeon?

An otolaryngologist is ready to start practicing after 13 or more years of college and post-graduate training. To receive certification from the American Board of Otolaryngology, individuals must first complete college, usually four years in medical school, and at least five years of specialty training. Next, the physician must pass the American Board of Otolaryngology examination to receive certification. Some then pursue a one or two year fellowship for more training in a subspecialty area. All full-time faculty at Columbia have completed fellowship training in their areas of expertise.

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