Persistent symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, or abdominal pain may necessitate a visit with a gastroenterologist. Gastroenterologists are physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating issues with your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your GI tract includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts, and liver. Learning that the problems you have require seeing a specialist may cause you some level of concern. Even if your doctor suggests a specific specialist, it’s important to remember that you ultimately are able to choose your own. But how to weigh these recommendations with your own personal considerations to find the best gastroenterologist for your needs?

Issues that have to do with the gastrointestinal tract can be a bit awkward for some people, to say the least. Finding a gastroenterologist, often called a stomach doctor, who makes you feel comfortable and free to speak frankly, will help you both understand what exactly is ailing you. Obviously, you want the best, most competent, and knowledgeable doctor you can find. But there are other considerations too.

Is your doctor qualified and experienced? There’s no doubt that you’ll want to research the qualifications of any gastroenterologist on your short list. That’s one of those “first things first” kind of things. But right after that, consider asking around to get a feel for their experience. Do other physicians know this doctor? If they’ve been around for a while and seem well qualified with the necessary board certifications, then it’s probably safe to move on to a consultation.

Does the doctor really listen to you? Nothing beats clear communication between doctor and patient if you are looking for an accurate diagnosis and the most effective treatments available. You know your body better than anyone else. If the doctor asks questions about specific symptoms and probes deeper into the answers that they find significant, that’s a great start. Additionally, it’s critical that they listen to any complaints you have about medications you’re currently taking to alleviate symptoms. The best physicians are healers in the true sense of the word—and healers listen.

Is the doctor aggressive? That word—aggressive—can have a bad connotation, but not necessarily in this context. If your doctor identifies a problem, does it seem like they’re going to make an effort to fix it right away, or prefer to “wait it out” and see what happens? The waiting game can allow small problems to quickly careen out of control. That’s not a good thing for anyone. GI doctors treat anything from Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to persistent heartburn and stomach ulcers. They treat countless other illnesses associated with the GI tract too, but the key word is “treat.” Choose a doctor who moves quickly to find interventions that work.

There’s a lot to think about when choosing a gastroenterologist, and it takes a little research as well as leg work. But in the end it’s worth it. If you have issues requiring a specialist, it’s possible you’ll see them more often than your family doctor. It’s imperative you feel good about going to each appointment.