Scott Howard in the
Ear, nose, and throat complaints, such as allergies, ear infections, sinusitis, and sore throats, are the number one reason people go to the doctor. Diseases and disorders of the head and neck, particularly the ear, nose, and throat (ENT), are treated by ENT physicians. Although the field is limited to the head and neck, it is a very important area of the body and the location of all the special senses (sight, hearing, smell, and taste). Using investigative thinking, ENT doctor Scott Howard helps his diverse group of patients with medicine, lifestyle alterations, therapies, and surgery.
What do ENT doctors treat?
Our branch of medicine is called otolaryngology–head and neck surgery. Otolaryngology (short for otorhinolaryngology) is derived from the root words otos (ear), rhino (nose), and laryngo (windpipe). An otolaryngologist, therefore, is literally someone who studies the ear, nose, and throat, which is why we are most commonly known as ENT doctors.
Because our training is in both medicine and surgery, we diagnose, treat, and manage head and neck diseases and disorders. This means we see patients with primary care and clinical problems and, rather than refer them to other specialists, also perform surgical procedures. We help people with problems related to the sinuses (e.g., nose bleeds, stuffy nose), larynx (e.g., sore throat, reflux disease), and ears (e.g., infections, hearing loss). We also treat cancer in the head and neck (e.g., neck, nose, ear, skull base), conduct plastic and reconstructive surgery on the face and neck (e.g., protruding ears, rhinoplasty), and manage allergies (e.g., hay fever).
Please describe a typical day at work.
I’m a fourth-year resident at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, DC. Every morning for about an hour I conduct “rounds” on patients admitted to the hospital. In other words, I check on inpatients and perform physical exams, which entail looking at vital signs, lab values, and test results. I discuss findings with patients, their families, and nurses and order additional tests if necessary. The rest of the day is either spent in the clinic, seeing a diverse group of patients with equally diverse ENT problems, or in surgery. On operating days, I perform procedures such as sinus operations, tonsillectomies, ear tube insertions, and extensive surgeries for head and neck cancer or advanced ear disease. At the end of the day, I round again to check on my inpatients. I am also on call from home one to two nights per week, which requires responding by phone or in person to any emergencies or patient questions. For example, I am frequently called in emergency situations to evaluate a patient’s airway or upper digestive tract.
Advice for students?
Training includes a four-year undergraduate degree, four years of medical school, a one-year surgical internship, and four additional years of ENT residency. At the conclusion of the residency, many surgeons complete a fellowship. A fellowship is a one- or two- year specialized period of training in a field such as facial plastic surgery, rhinology (nose and sinus surgery), otology (ear and base of skull surgery), laryngology (voice and throat disorders), or head and neck surgery (treating cancers of the head and neck). To learn more about the field, students should contact their local ENT physician to arrange a lunch visit on a clinic day.
What is your background?
In high school, I enjoyed and excelled in math and science—I actually recall my 10th-grade biology teacher telling me I might be a good doctor. After high school I went to West Point where I obtained a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. I then spent the following five years in the Army serving as an Armor Officer in the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. During that time, I was considering going back to school for a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. However, I had always enjoyed helping people and wanted to learn more about medicine, so on Friday nights I volunteered at the Darnall Army Community Hospital. One emergency room doctor thought I had an aptitude for medicine and recommended I consider medical school. I realized that was exactly what I wanted to do.
I attended the University of Pennsylvania for a year and a half to take additional courses (e.g., organic chemistry and biology) required for medical school admission. After preparing for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and achieving a high score, I went on to medical school at the University of Florida.
A memorable experience?
Some patients come to me complaining of a sore throat or a lump in their neck and I discover an early form of cancer, sometimes caused by smoking or drinking alcohol. This is a very sad moment for me and the patient, but it is also a moment where I am able to provide information and an elaborate treatment plan that will give them a fighting chance. Although a cure is not always possible, I know that being there for patients in this time of need is of great value.
—By Megan Sullivan
BS, aerospace engineering; MD
On the web:
- The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery
nurse, dentist, surgical technologist, physician assistant, physical therapist, orthotics and prosthetics practitioner, audiologist, speech-language pathologist