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A pulmonologist is a medical doctor that specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions of the lungs and respiratory system. These include bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, pneumonia and cancer. They often work as part of a medical team.

A significant part of a pulmonologist’s job is carrying out physical examinations on patients to assess their condition. They use a stethoscope to study breathing sounds, a bronchoscope to observe the airways and a spirometer to gauge the lung capacity. Breathing difficulties are evaluated and a treatment plan devised. If the physical examination is unconvincing or needs further investigation, the pulmonologist will order other medical tests to be carried out. These could include blood tests, ultrasounds and biopsies.

Treatment methods include medication taken orally or by inhalation. Surgical treatment, if required, is performed by a surgeon, and not the pulmonologist. Pulmonologists also use oxygen therapy to manage various respiratory disorders, and in more acute cases, utilise mechanical ventilation.

A pulmonologist must have a good understanding of all aspects of internal medicine and how problems with the respiratory system can impact on overall patient health.

A paediatric pulmonologist treats children from infants up to the age of twenty-one years, that have lung problems, lung disease or breathing problems.

Some of the many problems for which a pulmonologist treats children are:

- when premature infants have chronic or acute lung conditions that need monitoring and treatment
- cystic fibrosis, one of the most common congenital diseases, where very thick mucus clogs the child’s lungs, pancreas and intestines and so far, there is no known cure for it
- chronic coughing or noisy breathing
- apnoea – where a child stops breathing for a prolonged time
- recurring pneumonia and lung infections – sometimes caused by bacteria, irritants or viruses
- conditions or diseases where children require special equipment to help them breathe or to monitor their breathing at home
- asthma, which is characterised by chronically inflamed airways and wheezing, often triggered by an allergen.

Transplant pulmonologists help prepare transplant recipients for the stresses their bodies and lungs are about to undergo. Often they specialise in lung transplants, but they may consult on other challenging transplant procedures. Screenings of potential recipients are carried out to ensure that their lungs are strong enough to survive the stresses of surgery and recovery. Often they are present in the operating room to help assess the patient’s progress. After the procedure is complete they aid in preparing the patient’s lungs and breathing systems for the transition back into normal, healthy life.

Satisfying Aspects
- being able to assist patients by prolonging their life and relieving pain and suffering
- saving lives
- working as part of the medical profession in a very specialised field

Demanding aspects
- losing a patient under your care
- working extremely hard
- being on call 24 hours a day
- working weekends and holidays
- dealing with bereaved families

- able to perform well under pressure
- work well as part of a team
- above average communication skills
- have concern for the well-being of others
- emotionally balanced, patient and calm
- tactful, able to put patients at ease
- able to make quick, sound decisions in an emergency
- responsible and ethical

School Subjects
National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for the required degree course

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Sciences
Recommended Subjects: Life Sciences

Note: Competition to enter medical studies is stiff and there are usually many applicants with excellent grades who naturally would be given preference.

MBChB degree at UP, UCT, UFS, Wits, US, UL, UKZN:
- Theoretical training: 6 years
- Student internship: 1 year
- Practical work at a hospital: 1 year (also known as the house doctor year).

Post-graduate study for specialisation as a pulmonologist: 4 years.

Additional Requirements: before commencing postgraduate study for specialisation as a pulmonologist at e.g. UCT, US, Wits, - the candidate must:

- be in possession of a MBChB degree for 2 years
- be registered as a medical doctor with the Interim Medical and Dental Council (IMDC) of South Africa for 1 year.

Registration: on successful completion of the examination to qualify as a specialist, the candidate must register with the IMDC as a pulmonologist.

- medical schools
- general and private hospitals
- clinics
- private practice

SA Pulmonology Society
P O Box 322
Green Point, 8051
11th Floor
2 Long Street
Cape Town
Tel: (021) 441-9700 Fax: (021) 441-9701

SA Thoracic Society
P O Box 16433
Vlaeberg, 8018
Tel: (021) 423-0257 Fax: (021) 423-5629

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)
P O Box 205
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 338-9300 Fax: (012) 328-5120