Medicine is the field of health and healing. It includes nurses, doctors, and various specialists. The medical field includes the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases and conditions, conducting medical research, and various other aspects of health.
What is a doctor and what does a doctor do?
The primary responsibility of a physician or doctor is to diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries and help patients maintain good health. There are more than 135 medical specialties and subspecialties available for doctors to pursue, and each one requires a residency of between 3 to 8 years. Most doctors will go into clinical practice where they will treat patients directly at a hospital, outpatient care center, or doctor’s office, for example.
Other doctors may pursue a career in biomedical or clinical research to investigate why diseases occur, if a drug is safe and effective at treating a condition, and how to prevent diseases. Still, other doctors may go on to become surgeons, specializing in surgical procedures to remove or replace tissues or organs that are diseased.
What types of medical doctor occupations are there?
Deciding to go into the medical profession is an exciting career with many ways you can make an impact on the health of people. There are different types of medical practice within which you can specialize depending on your interests and passions. Below you can read about some of the types of doctors and surgeons:
- Anesthesiologists focus on the care of surgical patients and on pain relief. They administer drugs (anesthetics) that reduce or eliminate the sensation of pain during an operation or another medical procedure. During surgery, they adjust the amount of anesthetic as needed and monitor the patient's heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing. They also provide pain relief for patients in intensive care, for women in labor, and for patients suffering from chronic pain.
- Cardiologists diagnose and treat diseases or conditions of the heart and blood vessels, such as valve problems, high blood pressure, and heart attacks. Cardiologists may work with adults or specialize in pediatrics (typically newborns through age 21).
- Dermatologists provide care for diseases relating to the skin, hair, and nails. They treat patients who may have melanoma or other skin cancers. They may offer both medical and surgical dermatology services.
- Emergency medicine physicians treat patients in urgent medical situations. These physicians evaluate, care for, and stabilize patients whose illness or injury requires immediate attention.
- Family medicine physicians are generalists who address health maintenance and assess and treat conditions that occur in everyday life. These conditions may include sinus and respiratory infections and broken bones. Family medicine physicians typically have regular, long-term patients, who may include all members of the same household.
- General internal medicine physicians diagnose and provide nonsurgical treatment for a range of problems that affect internal organs and systems such as the stomach, kidneys, liver, and digestive tract. Internists use a variety of diagnostic techniques to treat patients through medication or hospitalization. Their patients are mostly adults.
- Neurologists diagnose and treat those with disorders of the brain and nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and epilepsy (seizure disorder). These physicians may specialize in one or more conditions, or they may work as pediatric neurologists to diagnose and manage the care of children with autism, behavioral disorders, or other neurological conditions.
- Obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYNs) provide care and counsel to women regarding pregnancy, childbirth, and the female reproductive system. They also diagnose and treat health issues specific to women, such as cervical cancer and ovarian cysts.
- Ophthalmologists diagnose and treat conditions of the eye. Treatment may include surgery to correct vision problems or to prevent vision loss from glaucoma and other diseases. Ophthalmologists also may fit eyeglasses, prescribe contact lenses, and provide other vision services.
- Orthopedic surgeons diagnose and treat conditions of or injuries to the musculoskeletal system, which includes bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. They may specialize in certain areas of the body, such as the foot and ankle, or in a particular type of practice, such as sports medicine.
- Pathologists test body tissue, fluids, and organs and review test results to diagnose diseases. These physicians may choose specializations that include clinical pathology, which focuses on laboratory analysis of bodily fluids, and anatomical pathology, which focuses on examinations of tissue and other samples acquired through autopsy or surgery.
- Pediatricians provide care for infants, children, teenagers, and young adults. They specialize in diagnosing and treating problems specific to younger people.
- Pediatric surgeons diagnose, treat, and manage a variety of disorders and diseases in fetuses, infants, children, and adolescents. These surgeons collaborate with other physicians involved in a child’s medical care to determine the best treatment options for the child.
- Psychiatrists are primary mental health physicians. They diagnose and treat mental illnesses through a combination of personal counseling, hospitalization, and medication. Psychiatrists may prescribe medications to correct chemical imbalances that cause some mental illnesses.
- Radiologists review and interpret x-rays and other medical images, such as ultrasounds, to diagnose injuries or diseases.
Are there other careers in the medical profession, besides becoming a doctor?
There are numerous healthcare occupations you may want to pursue other than being a doctor. For example, becoming a physician assistant. Physician assistants examine, diagnose, and treat patients under the supervision of a physician, often doing many of the same duties as a doctor. Another option is to become a chiropractor. Chiropractors evaluate and treat patients' neuromusculoskeletal system, which includes nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
Where do doctors work?
Physicians and surgeons work in both clinical and nonclinical settings. Clinical settings include doctors' offices, outpatient care centers, and hospitals. Nonclinical settings may include government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and insurance companies.
Explore the exciting profession of medicine more by checking out the resources. You may also want to gain hands-on experience by participating in a medical pathway program. Find pathway programs by clicking below.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physicians and Surgeons, at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physicians-and-surgeons.htm (visited April 12, 2023).
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List of resources
Learn How to Become a Doctor/Physician – This website provides detailed information about the steps that are involved with becoming a dentist, all the way from what classes are important to take as an undergraduate to completing medical school and beyond!
Aspiring Docs – This collection of resources from the Association of American Medical Colleges provides helpful information to help you get started on your path to medicine, addressing important topics such as how to get medically related experience and prepare for the application process; you can also get inspired by personal stories from medical students, residents, and physicians.