What is a Doctor?
Do you thrive in situations where you can interact with and help people? Are you interested in maintaining and restoring people's health through the practice of medicine? You may want to consider a career as a doctor!
There is a specific type of doctor for almost every major system located in the human body. Regardless of specialty, doctors face the challenge of diagnosing and treating human disease, ailments, injuries, pain, or other conditions. This is done by listening to the patient, understanding the problem, and then using their scientific expertise to know how best to treat the ailment or concern.
What does a Doctor do?
What a doctor does will differ depending on the kind of medicine they practice. There are typically three categories of doctors:
Doctors That Work in Hospitals
Approximately half of doctors work in a hospital setting, either as a surgeon or as a specialized doctor. There are many medical specialties to choose from — at least thirty — and within these specialties, there are many sub-specialties. Please see below under What Are a Few Medical Specialties One Can Consider? for more details. For example, a medical student can choose to become a neurosurgeon and then within this become a sub-specialist in pediatric neurosurgery.
Doctors That Work Within a Community
The other half or so of medical students will end up becoming general practitioners, seeing patients of all ages within a particular community. They are the frontline and first point of contact in a patient's health care. They diagnose and treat their patients for all sorts of ailments, and also refer their patients to the appropriate specialist doctor when needed for specific medical opinions and advice. There are other types of doctors who can also work within a community, such as those who work in paediatrics, obstetrics, and sexual health.
There are medical students who prefer to take a different path and pursue a career in academia. This involves doing research as well as teaching other students and medical professionals. Other students may use their medical degree to delve very deeply into research-based careers in a particular field that interests them — breast cancer, neurological disorders, or environmental pathology are examples.
Most doctors have specific expertise in one type of medicine or another. Here are the most common types of doctors:
An anesthesiologist keeps a patient comfortable, safe and pain-free during surgery by administering local or general anesthetic.
A cardiologist specializes in finding, treating, and preventing diseases that affect the heart, the arteries, and the veins.
A cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in surgical procedures inside the thorax (the chest), which may involve the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest. As well as performing surgery, they also diagnose and treat diseases of these organs.
A chiropractor, or doctor of chiropractic medicine, specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system, especially in the spine. Treatment is usually physical manipulation of the joints and the spine to bring them back into alignment. A chiropractor does not perform surgery or prescribe medication.
A colorectal surgeon specializes in diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus, as well as the entire gastric tract. These surgeons work closely with urologists, who handle the urogenital tract in males and the urinary tract of women, gynecologists, who deal with specific female issues, and gastroenterologists, who deal with diseases of the gut.
Coroner (Medical Examiner)
The term coroner has different meanings, depending on the country that one resides in. Some coroners in the United States (depending on the state) are specialized physicians, or medical examiners, with training in forensic pathology.
Dentists identify potential oral health issues such as gum disease, as well as examine patients, order medical tests and determine the correct diagnosis and treatment. They also perform oral surgery and remove teeth or address other dental health problems.
A dermatologist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions affecting skin, hair, sweat and oil glands, nails, and mucus membranes (inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids) which can include cancer.
An endocrinologist specializes in diagnosing conditions and diseases related to the glands and hormones. While primary care doctors know a lot about the human body, for conditions and diseases directly related to glands and hormones they will typically send a patient to an endocrinologist.
A family practitioner specializes in caring for the entire family. Patients can be children, adults, and the elderly, and are treated for a wide array of medical issues.
A forensic pathologist investigates the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths, and is able to determine how a person died by performing an autopsy and studying tissue and laboratory results. These doctors are often called upon to provide evidence in court regarding the cause and time of such deaths.
A gastroenterologist has specific training in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This may include diseases and disorders that affect the the biliary system (liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts), as well as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (colon).
A gynecologist specializes in women's reproductive systems. Gynecologists are also sometimes certified as obstetricians, and will monitor the health of the mother and the fetus during a pregnancy.
A hospitalist is a physician whose focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. Their duties include patient care, teaching, research, and leadership related to hospital medicine.
An immunologist specializes in managing problems related to the immune system, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases. A smaller number of immunologists are strictly researchers seeking to better understand how the immune system works and to help develop better ways of diagnosing and providing treatment for many immunological conditions.
An internist is a 'doctor of internal medicine' who can diagnose, treat, and practice compassionate care for adults across the spectrum, from health to complex illness. They are not to be mistaken with "interns," who are doctors in their first year of residency training.
A naturopathic physician blends modern scientific medical practice and knowledge with natural and traditional forms of medical treatment. The goal is to treat the underlying causes of disease while stimulating the body's own healing abilities.
A neurologist specializes in treating diseases that affect the human nervous system. It is a very prestigious and difficult medical specialty due to the complexity of the nervous system, which consists of the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves.
A neurosurgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system. This includes congenital anomalies, trauma, tumours, vascular disorders, infections of the brain or spine, stroke, or degenerative diseases of the spine.
Occupational medicine is focused on keeping individuals well at work, both mentally and physically. As workplaces become more complex, occupational physicians play an important role in advising people on how their work can affect their health.
An oncologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The three primary types of oncologists are: medical oncologists that specialize in the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells; surgical oncologists that perform surgical procedures to identify and remove cancerous tumors; and radiation oncologists that treat cancer with radiation therapy.
An ophthalmologist is a specialist that deals specifically with the structure, function, diseases, and treatment of the eye. Due to the complexities and the importance of the eye as a special sense that provides vision, the discipline of ophthalmology is dedicated solely to this organ.
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon
An oral and maxillofacial surgeon treats dental and medical problems involving the oral cavity and the maxillofacial area. The maxillofacial area includes the bones of the forehead, face, cheekbones and the soft tissues. Treatment often involves performing surgery and related procedures to treat diseases, defects, or injuries, and to improve function or appearance.
An orthopaedic surgeon examines, diagnoses, and treats diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. This system includes the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.
An orthodontist specializes in how the jaws and teeth are aligned. They help people whose teeth are misaligned or require some kind of correction – those with an improper bite, or malocclusion.
Otolaryngologists (or ENT physicians) are specialists trained in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck. These specialists are trained in both medicine and surgery.
A pathologist studies the causes, nature, and effects of disease. The field of pathology is broad with concentrations on changes in cells, tissues, and organs that are the result of a disease.
A pediatrician specializes in providing medical care to infants, children and teenagers by administering treatments, therapies, medications and vaccinations to treat illness, disorders or injuries.
A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in oral inflammation, and who knows how to prevent, diagnose, and treat periodontal disease.
A plastic surgeon specializes in reshaping healthy body parts for aesthetic reasons, and also in repairing or replacing body parts damaged by accidents, illness or malformation.
A podiatrist practices podiatric medicine, which is a branch of science devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and study of medical disorders of the foot, ankle, lower leg and lower back. In the U.S. and Canada, podiatry is practiced as a specialty.
A prosthodontist specializes in restoring the look, function, comfort, and health of a patient's oral cavity with artificial materials. These artificial materials are made up of a wide variety of restorations that include fillings, dentures, veneers, crowns, bridges and oral implants.
Psychiatrists are physicians who evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who are affected by a temporary or chronic mental health problem.
A pulmonologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary (lung) conditions and diseases of the chest, particularly pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, and complicated chest infections.
A radiologist is a specialist in interpreting medical images that may be obtained with x-rays, (CT scans or radiographs), nuclear medicine (involving radioactive substances, magnetism (MRI), or ultrasound.
Sports Medicine Physician
A sports medicine physician specializes in taking care of people who have sports injuries that may be acquired from playing sports, exercising, or from otherwise being physically active.
A surgeon performs surgery for the purpose of removing diseased tissue or organs, to repair body systems, or to replace diseased organs with transplants.
A urologist specializes in the treatment of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. Urologists can treat the kidneys, urinary bladder, urethra, uterus, and male productive organs. There are also specific specialty areas that urologists may choose to focus on, such as pediatric urology, male infertility, and urologic oncology.
A veterinarian specializes in diagnosing and controlling animal diseases and treating sick and injured animals. The general practice veterinarian spends one-third to one-half of his or her time in surgery performing animal neutering, orthopedic procedures, bone setting, dentistry, and trauma surgery.
A zoo endocrinologist primarily studies the reproductive hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, in animals. It is sometimes necessary to follow changes in an animal’s hormone levels in order to help conserve endangered species by reproducing them in zoos.
Being a doctor, like any other career, has its pros and cons:
- Helping People
- Respect in Society
- Job Opportunities
- Various Career Paths
- Monetary Benefits
- Ability To Help In Areas Of Need
- Long Course Duration
- High Fees For Schooling
- Continuing Education Needed
- Long Working Hours
- Stress & Burnout
Ultimately, a doctor strives to be a cohesive person that tries to help other people by being caring, knowledgeable, understanding, prepared, and ready to give his or her best.
What is the workplace of a Doctor like?
Doctors can be found in several settings. Some start working at an existing practice while others open their own practice. Large hospitals are always eager to take on new staff members. It is believed that a lot depends on personal preference as the environment in each place will be different (i.e. a government hospital vs. a private hospital).
A doctor typically works very long hours and has to be available for emergencies. These hours are spent seeing patients in an office-based setting, running tests as well as interpreting them, prescribing medicine or treatments, doing rounds in the hospital, making notes on patient's physical conditions, advising patients on how to stay healthy and talking to them about further treatment. They keep up to date by taking classes and regularly reading books and medical journals.
A doctor that also performs surgeries will usually work two or three full days in the office and then two or three days in the hospital operating room performing surgeries. Doctors will also invest time completing administrative duties such as updating patient records, returning phone calls, or dealing with various office issues.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Pharmacists doctors?
A pharmacist has a doctoral degree - a PharmD, or Doctor of Pharmacy. Many professions require a doctorate (for example, a professor, a phsychologist, etc). However, they are not "doctors" like medical doctors are.
For example, while in a crowded airplane flight, someone yells out "is there a doctor in the house?" would or should a PharmD stand up and approach in the affirmative? Probably not. Clearly here they are referring to a physician that has completed medical school and can take charge in a medical emergency.
Doctors are also known as:
Physician Doctor Of Medicine