How to become Otolaryngologist

Updated on January 15, 2024


An otolaryngologist, also known as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor, specializes in treating conditions related to the ears, nose, throat, and related structures of the head and neck. Becoming an otolaryngologist requires many years of training and hard work. Still, it can be a rewarding career path for those dedicated to caring for patients with conditions affecting these delicate areas of the body.

First and foremost, aspiring otolaryngologists must complete a bachelor’s degree with coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and the humanities. Subsequently, they must graduate from medical school, which takes another four years. After this, otolaryngology residents complete at least 5 years of specialized training in disorders and treatment of the ears, nose, throat, and related structures. Overall, the journey requires commitment and perseverance but allows those willing to put in the hard work to pursue a meaningful career, improving patients’ quality of life.

What is an Otolaryngologist?

An otolaryngologist, also known as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor or surgeon, is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the ears, nose, throat, and related structures of the head and neck. Otolaryngologists are doctors who have completed up to 15 years of training and education, including college, medical school, and specialty training.

Otolaryngologists treat children and adults for a wide range of conditions involving the sinuses, larynx (voice box), oral cavity, upper pharynx (mouth and throat), and structures of the neck and face. Some common conditions they treat include tonsillitis, ear infections, sleep apnea, allergies, vertigo, and head and neck cancer.

In addition to conducting medical examinations using specialized instruments, otolaryngologists may provide non-surgical treatments such as medications or therapy. They also perform certain surgical procedures if needed – this can include removing the adenoids or tonsils, sinus surgery, inserting ear tubes, and tumor removal in the head and neck, among other procedures.

What do otolaryngologists do?

Otolaryngologists, also known as ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors or otorhinolaryngologists, specialize in diagnosing and treating disorders of the ears, nose, throat, and related structures of the head and neck. Specifically, otolaryngologists:

In addition, otolaryngologists often collaborate with related specialists like audiologists and speech-language pathologists to provide comprehensive care for their patients. With extensive training and a complex scope of practice, otolaryngology is a rewarding career path for those interested in treating conditions of the ears, nose and throat.

Educational Requirements for Becoming a

To become an otolaryngologist, you must complete extensive education and training. The path generally includes:

Undergraduate Education

You must complete a bachelor’s degree, typically in a field like biology or health sciences. Coursework usually includes biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and English classes. Maintaining excellent grades is important, as otolaryngology programs are very competitive. Learn more about choosing an undergraduate major for medical school.

Medical School

The next step is completing four years of medical school and earning either an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) degree. In medical school, you will take courses in areas like anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, medical ethics, and laws governing medicine. You will also gain hands-on clinical experience during your 3rd and 4th years. Learn tips for succeeding in medical school here.

Residency in Otolaryngology

After finishing medical school, you must complete a 5-year residency program in otolaryngology, also known as ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat). As a resident, you will train under the supervision of experienced otolaryngologists, developing the necessary knowledge and surgical skills related to conditions affecting the ears, nose, throat, head, and neck. Learn more about otolaryngology residencies here.

Postgraduate Training for Otolaryngologist

Becoming an otolaryngologist, also known as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor, requires extensive postgraduate training beyond the four years of medical school.

The many years of training equip otolaryngologists to provide comprehensive medical and surgical care for various ear, nose, throat, and head/neck disorders. Their broad expertise allows them to treat patients across the lifespan.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Otolaryngologist

Becoming an otolaryngologist requires developing a specific skill set. An otolaryngologist, also known as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor, treats conditions related to the head and neck, such as sinusitis, tonsillitis, hearing loss, and more. To be a successful otolaryngologist, several key skills and personal qualities exist.

Technical Skills

An otolaryngologist must have strong technical skills to perform various medical procedures expertly. Some of the technical abilities needed include:

Interpersonal Skills

Otolaryngologists don’t just rely on technical wizardry – they also need well-developed interpersonal abilities:

Personal Qualities

In addition to concrete skills, some important personal qualities contribute to success as an otolaryngologist, such as:

Developing this diverse blend of technical, interpersonal, and inherent skills and qualities takes dedication. But for those willing to undertake the extensive training to become an otolaryngologist, the payoff is the ability to restore hearing, alleviate chronic sinus issues, cure voice disorders, and truly improve patients’ quality of life.

Otolaryngologist Salary

Years of Experience Average Salary
0-5 years $300,000
5-10 years $350,000
10-20 years $400,000
20+ years $450,000

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Becoming an otolaryngologist opens up a wide range of career opportunities. After completing medical school and a 5-year residency program, otolaryngologists can work in various settings, including hospitals, private practices, universities, and research organizations. Some of the most common career paths include:

Private Practice

Many otolaryngologists choose to open their private practice or join a group practice with other physicians. This allows them the freedom to set their hours and determine the types of patients and cases they take on. Private practice otolaryngologists have the potential to earn higher salaries than those working in hospitals or academia. They can also tailor their practices to subspecialize in certain areas like pediatric ENT or head and neck surgery.

Academic Medicine

An academic medicine career may be the right fit for otolaryngologists interested in research and teaching. They can work in university hospitals and medical schools conducting research, treating patients, and supervising residents and medical students. Academic careers also provide the opportunity to influence the next generation of otolaryngologists. Those who take on full-time faculty appointments can advance from the role of Assistant Professor to Associate Professor to Full Professor over time.

Hospital-Based Practice

Hospitals and medical centers employ many otolaryngologists. They may work in outpatient clinics affiliated with the hospital or serve on call to handle emergency airway issues and consultations from other departments. Over time, hospital-based otolaryngologists can advance to serve as division chiefs or department chairs, overseeing other ENT physicians and support staff. They may also take on hospital leadership roles on committees focused on quality improvement, patient safety, etc.

Throughout their careers, otolaryngologists can choose to subspecialize by completing additional focused training in areas like laryngology, otology, rhinology, pediatric otolaryngology, and more. This allows them to narrow their clinical focus and serve patients with specific conditions. Many also take on leadership roles in professional associations like the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. No matter what career path otolaryngologists embark on, they can make a difference in patients’ lives by diagnosing and treating a wide range of ear, nose, and throat conditions.


In summary, becoming an otolaryngologist takes many years of education and training, but it can be a rewarding career for those dedicated to treating conditions related to the ears, nose, and throat. It requires obtaining a bachelor’s degree, completing four years of medical school, a five-year otolaryngology residency program, and possibly a fellowship for a subspecialty. However, the long journey prepares otolaryngologists to provide their patients with a high level of care. Those interested should be prepared to work hard and focus extensively on this competitive field. The American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery provides more information on becoming an ENT doctor and the field of otolaryngology. With thorough preparation and perseverance, a successful career helping patients in this specialty is possible for the right individual.

Additional Resources

Resource Link Description
American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery
  • Professional association representing otolaryngologists in the United States
  • Details on training, fellowships, research, and latest advancements in the field
  • Job Board to search open otolaryngology positions
American Medical Association
  • National Association for physicians of all specialties
  • Information on medical education, licensure, practice management, and health policy
  • Advocacy work and updates on legislation affecting healthcare
American Board of Otolaryngology
  • Administers certifying exams for otolaryngology board certification
  • Overview of initial certification and maintenance of certification processes
  • Board certification verifies physician expertise in otolaryngology
Association of Otolaryngology Administrators
  • Professional network for otolaryngology medical practice administrators
  • Educational resources on issues like coding, reimbursement, practice management
  • Annual conference for administrators in ENT field


What is an otolaryngologist?
An otolaryngologist, also known as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor, is a physician who specializes in treating conditions related to the ears, nose, throat, and related structures of the head and neck. Otolaryngologists diagnose and treat things like sinus infections, tonsillitis, hearing loss, balance disorders, allergies, and more.

What kind of education and training is required to become an otolaryngologist?
Becoming an otolaryngologist requires an extensive amount of training. After completing a bachelor’s degree and taking the MCAT exam, aspiring otolaryngologists must attend 4 years of medical school to earn their MD or DO. After graduating, they must complete a 5-year residency program focused on otolaryngology training. Many also complete 1-2 years of specialty fellowship training in an area like pediatric ENT or head and neck surgery. The total training time is typically 10-12 years after college.

What is the average salary for an otolaryngologist?
Otolaryngologists earn very competitive salaries, given their high level of specialized training. According to the Medical Group Management Association’s Physician Compensation Survey, the average salary for otolaryngologists is around $461,000] per year. Those working in academic medicine or research may earn somewhat less, while those with additional fellowship training or in private practice may earn more.

What kind of experience is required before you can work as an otolaryngologist?
The lengthy residency and fellowship training time provides otolaryngologists with robust clinical experience in diagnosing and treating all types of ENT conditions. Before beginning independent practice, many states also require physicians to obtain a medical license, which often requires some practice under the supervision of a licensed physician before full licensure is granted. Most otolaryngologists gain 3-5 years of practice experience after training before opening their practice.