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.


  • medical schools

  • general and private hospitals

  • clinics

  • private practice

Getting Started

  • do volunteer or part-time work at local hospitals

  • do a first-aid course with St John’s Ambulance Foundation

  • read as much as possible about diseases of the respiratory system


Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, University of Cape Town, University of Pretoria, University of Stellenbosch, University of the Free State, University of the Witwatersrand

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