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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
    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
Anesthesiology Medication to help patients manage pain or sedate them during surgery
Cardiology Heart, blood vessels, and the circulatory system (blood vessels)
Chiropractic Medicine 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).
Dentistry Diseases of the teeth and mouth
Dermatology Skin, hair and nail disease
Emergency Medicine 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
Gastroenterology Digestive system organs such as the esophagus, stomach, bowel (large and small intestines), liver, gall bladder and pancreas
Geriatric Medicine Conditions and issues related to older people
Gynecology Female reproductive system and fertility disorders (also see Obstetrics and Gynecology)
Hematology Blood and blood-producing organs; disorders such as anemia, leukemia and lymphoma
Infectious Disease 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 Medicine Internal organs and their diseases
Neonatology Newborn baby conditions and diseases
Nephrology Kidney disease
Neurology Nervous system: brain, spinal cord, and nerves
Obstetrics Care for women during and after pregnancy
Oncology Cancer; cancer treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, biotherapy, pain management
Ophthalmology Eye disease
Optometry Eye exams and lenses (glasses and contact lenses); Optometrists are not medical doctors
Orthopedics Bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves
Otolaryngology (Ear, Nose, and Throat) Ear, nose, sinuses, throat (larynx) and upper airway
Pain Management Pain management through medication, exercise, stress reduction or relaxation
Pathology Tissues, blood, urine and other body fluid to diagnose or treat medical conditions
Pediatrics Newborn, infants, children and adolescent healthcare
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Restoring function and movement for people with disabilities or injuries
Plastic Surgery Reconstruct, restore function or change the look of face or body
Podiatry Foot and ankle treatment or corrective devices
Preventive Medicine Healthcare, education or counseling to help prevent or delay disease
Psychiatry Brain or nervous system disorders; treatment of drug or chemical abuse; Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD)
Psychology 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)
Pulmonary Medicine Lung and respiratory (breathing) system
Radiology X-rays, ultrasound and imaging techniques such as Computerized Tomography (CT Scan) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Rheumatology Muscles, tendons or joint disease; inflammation and autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, rheumatism, gout, lupus, scleroderma, and Lyme disease
Sports Medicine Sports-related injuries and therapy
Surgery Operations to remove, repair or replace body parts
Toxicology Detecting and treating poisons or harmful substances
Urology 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.

Who else is on the primary care team? >>>

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