Types of Doctors

in Common Medical Fields

Gone are the days when people used to go to a General Practitioner for all of their medical needs. Today's medical treatment is much more complicated and people often have several different types of physicians they may visit during the year. For example, a teenage girl may see her family practice physician for her annual physical, visit a dermatologist a few times a year to deal with acne, and go to a gynecologist annually for a gynecological exam. If she injures herself while playing a sport, she may need to see a sports medicine doctor or an orthopedic surgeon. If she has ADHD or a similar behavior problem, she may also see a psychiatrist a few times a year for assessments and to have her medication reviewed. That is five or six different doctors that she may be seeing on a regular basis.


This is dramatically different from the past. Although the General Practitioner is still available for normal, everyday aches and pains, minor illnesses, small injuries, and routine diagnostic tests, more and more people are referred to a variety of specialists to handle their medical needs. Many people have several physicians that they see on a routine basis. As a result of the rapidly changing medical profession, all physicians must now have residency training in a medical specialty while they are in medical school.

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According to the American Medical Association, these are some of the more common specialties.

Emergency Medical Doctors

Emergency physicians have to enjoy making quick decisions and acting rapidly when patients are in danger of death or serious disability unless there is a fast medical intervention. They also need to be prepared to work with a wide variety of illnesses and injuries, immediately recognize the health issues involved, evaluate the patients, care for them, stabilize their condition and make the decision whether they should be sent home or admitted to the hospital. In addition, emergency physicians must be able to perform these services for all age groups, from infants to the elderly.

Family Practice Physicians

The Family Practice Doctor provides medical care that is similar to what General Practioners did in the past. A family physician needs to be familiar with a wide variety of specialties, including internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology, and geriatrics, because they will work with all members of the family to prevent and treat a wide variety of ailments.

Internal Medicine Doctors

Internists, as they are generally called, provide heath care for teens, adults and the elderly. They deal with both common and complex illnesses such as cancer, infections, heart disease, arthritis, respiratory problems and more. Many internists also perform the same function as family practice physicians, and can often be the primary care provider for most members of the family.


Cardiology is the medical specialty that deals with disorders of the human heart and blood vessels.  People are referred to a cardiologist when their family doctor feels they are exhibiting symptoms of heart disease, such as shortness of breath, chest pains or dizzy spells.  Their heart problems may also show up when they have undergone routine testing, such as ECG.  Anyone who has serious heart disease, or who has had a heart attack will need to regularly see a cardiologist.

Obstetrics and Gynecology Physicians

 Obstetricians and gynecologists specialize in women's health issues from pre-puberty, through the child bearing years, and into menopause. They take care of women of all ages, treat them when they are pregnant, deliver babies, and provide postpartum care. They may also perform female surgery, such as hysterectomies. Some obstetricians and gynecologists have even more specific sub-specialties, such as working with women in high-risk pregnancies, treating cancer in the reproductive tract, or dealing with hormonal problems.

Orthopedic Surgeons

Most people see an orthopedic surgeon if they suffer from a complex injury to a bone. However, orthopedic surgeons also perform surgeries designed to restore the use of the extremities and spine if the patient has congenital deformities, trauma, infections, tumors, or degenerative diseases that affect the spine, hands, feet, knees, hips, shoulders or elbows. Orthopedic surgeons also perform hip and knee replacement surgeries in the elderly.


Pediatricians provide primary medical care for both healthy children and those that are seriously or chronically ill. Because they may be the only physician that many children see, pediatricians are also trained to assess emotional and behavioral problems. Pediatricians work to reduce infant mortality, control infectious diseases, and teach healthy lifestyles to their young patients. Pediatricians also watch for signs of family problems that can affect their children's health, such as child abuse, homelessness, or substance abuse in the family.


Psychiatrists specialize in preventing, diagnosing and treating mental, addictive and emotional problems. They may deal with people suffering from schizophrenia, anxiety, addictions, and adjustment problems. They deal with patients of all ages. Children and teens are often referred to a psychiatrist if it is suspected that they are suffering from behavior problems such as ADHD. Psychiatrists are able to order diagnostic lab tests, and prescribe medications, when necessary.


Surgeons may perform a wide variety of surgeries on virtually any part of the body. They provide preoperative, operative and postoperative care to their surgical patients. Often surgeons will specialize in a particular type of surgery, such as heart surgery, brain surgery or eye surgery, and refer other problems to surgeons who specialize in those issues.

Other Specialties

Although the above list includes the most popular medical specialties, patients may also be referred to other types of specialists as well. These specialties include allergists, anesthesiologists, urologists, endocrinologists, rheumatologists, dermatologists, hematologists, oncologists, ophthalmologists, and plastic surgeons, as well as many others.

Some doctors are in specialties which help patients, even though you rarely meet them in person. For example, your surgeon will use an assisting anesthesiologist who you may only meet a few minutes before you are rolled into the operating room. A radiologist may analyze your mammogram, x-ray, CT scan, or MRI, and send a report to your personal physician, all without ever meeting you. A pathologist performs a similar function, by analyzing tissues and specimens that have been removed by biopsy or surgery and testing them to see if they are diseased. The pathologist sends the results to your attending physician.

Some patients may also choose to use physicians who are certified in specific specialties, such as sports medicine doctors, who can help the patients deal with specific issues they may be having.

As you can see, medicine has become much more complicated than it was 50 years ago. Today, it is important to not only have a family practice doctor or internist, but also to be familiar with the different types of specialists that we may need to visit from time to time during our lifetime.

photo courtesy of photoxpress.com

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