Doctors, or physicians, are key members of the healthcare team. They have years of education and training. They may be primary care doctors or specialists.
- Primary care doctors
When patients need medical care, they first go to primary care doctors. Primary care doctors focus on preventive healthcare. This includes regular check-ups, disease screening tests, immunizations and health counseling. Primary care doctors may be family practitioners, internal medicine or Osteopathic Doctors (OD’s). Pediatricians also provide primary care for babies, children and teenagers. Primary care pediatricians treat day-to-day illnesses and provide preventive care such as minor injuries, viral infections, immunizations and check-ups.
Specialists diagnose and treat conditions that require a special area of knowledge. Patients may see a specialist to diagnose or treat a specific short-term condition or, if they have a chronic disease, they may see a specialist on an ongoing basis. Examples of specialties include: endocrinology, dermatology and obstetrics.
|Medical Doctor Specialties
|What do they deal with?
|Allergy and Immunology
|Allergic reactions to food, medications, insect stings, and environment; asthma and other lung problems
|Medication to help patients manage pain or sedate them during surgery
|Heart, blood vessels, and the circulatory system (blood vessels)
|Adjusting areas of the body and spine to prevent or treat disease and improve nerve function
|Critical Care Medicine
|Acute, life-threatening illness or injury, usually in a hospital’s ICU (Intensive Care Unit) or CCU (Critical Care Unit).
|Diseases of the teeth and mouth
|Skin, hair and nail disease
|Life-threatening medical conditions or injuries, usually in a hospital emergency room
|Endocrinology and Metabolism
|Hormones and glands such as the thyroid, pituitary, adrenal, pancreas, ovaries and testes; also deals with diabetes
|Digestive system organs such as the esophagus, stomach, bowel (large and small intestines), liver, gall bladder and pancreas
|Conditions and issues related to older people
|Female reproductive system and fertility disorders (also see Obstetrics and Gynecology)
|Blood and blood-producing organs; disorders such as anemia, leukemia and lymphoma
|Infections and diseases that can be passed from person to person such as bacterial infections, viral infections, parasites, sepsis (infection or bacteria in the blood), meningitis, and pneumonia.
|Internal organs and their diseases
|Newborn baby conditions and diseases
|Nervous system: brain, spinal cord, and nerves
|Care for women during and after pregnancy
|Cancer; cancer treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, biotherapy, pain management
|Eye exams and lenses (glasses and contact lenses); Optometrists are not medical doctors
|Bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves
|Otolaryngology (Ear, Nose, and Throat)
|Ear, nose, sinuses, throat (larynx) and upper airway
|Pain management through medication, exercise, stress reduction or relaxation
|Tissues, blood, urine and other body fluid to diagnose or treat medical conditions
|Newborn, infants, children and adolescent healthcare
|Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
|Restoring function and movement for people with disabilities or injuries
|Reconstruct, restore function or change the look of face or body
|Foot and ankle treatment or corrective devices
|Healthcare, education or counseling to help prevent or delay disease
|Brain or nervous system disorders; treatment of drug or chemical abuse; Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD)
|Mental health; treat patients through counseling or psychotherapy (”talk” therapy); Psychologists are not medical doctors, but may have either a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a doctor of philosophy degree (PhD)
|Lung and respiratory (breathing) system
|X-rays, ultrasound and imaging techniques such as Computerized Tomography (CT Scan) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
|Muscles, tendons or joint disease; inflammation and autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, rheumatism, gout, lupus, scleroderma, and Lyme disease
|Sports-related injuries and therapy
|Operations to remove, repair or replace body parts
|Detecting and treating poisons or harmful substances
|Urinary tract (male and female); male reproductive organs
Steps to becoming a doctor
Step 1: Earn a Bachelors’ Degree
Applicants can earn a Bachelors’ degree in any course but shall have a broad educational background, a solid foundation in natural sciences and experience in healthcare settings. All medical school applicants require an undergraduate coursework in biology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics.
A bachelors’ degree generally takes up to 4 years.
Step 2: Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
MCAT performance scores are required by almost all medical schools in the nation. Content areas tested on MCAT include biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. MCAT is a standardized examination that is designed to assess problem solving, verbal reasoning and writing skills.
Step 3: Earn a Medical Degree
The first two years of Medical degree usually entail classroom and laboratory work, while last two years allow students to work directly with patients under the supervision of experienced doctors. This clinical experience also gives the student a chance to find out what type of residency he or she would prefer to pursue after graduation
Medical school programs generally last for 4 years
Step 4: Complete a Residency Program
Residency programs gives an opportunity to work directly with patients in a specialty area of medicine. They are responsible for patient care activities, including developing a problem list, performing physical exams, and compiling medical histories. Students can choose from fields such as internal medicine, radiology, surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, dermatology or anesthesia. Residents may be called house officers, but they also have different titles:
- Interns are first-year residents and have just graduated from medical school
- Junior residents are in their second year of residency and supervise or teach interns
- Senior residents are third-year residents preparing for independent practice and supervising interns and medical students
- Chief residents are residents who have been chosen to be a link between senior doctors, hospital administration and other residents
A residency program can last from 3-7 years depending on the specialty area.
Step 5: Obtain Licensure
All states require physicians to become licensed before allowing them to practice medicine. Graduation from an accredited medical school is required before qualifying for licensure. Candidates must also complete a residency training program and pass exams.
Licenses must be renewed periodically. Doctors applying for license renewal must typically complete at least 50 hours of continuing education before taking the renewal exam. Each state has different licensing requirements, so it may be beneficial to learn what those are as soon as possible.
Step 6: Get Certified to Advance Career
Certification can increase employment opportunities. A professional designation can demonstrate that a doctor is an expert in a specific area of medicine. Certification by American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) involves a thorough process of evaluations and assessments. Continuing education often requires re-certification.
Physician Assistants (PA’s)
Physician’s Assistants are licensed to practice medicine and are supervised by a doctor. Their training is similar to a doctor’s but they do not complete an internship or residency. Like a medical doctor, a physician’s assistant can perform physical exams, order tests, diagnose illnesses and prescribe medicine, assist in surgery, provide preventive Healthcare counseling. Education for PA’s includes a 4-year degree plus a 2-year Physician Assistant program.