Physician, Doctor and Surgeon

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses. Physicians examine patients, obtain medical histories, and perform and review diagnostic tests. They discuss diet, hygiene, and preventive health care with their patients.

Physicians are either classified as doctors of medicine (M.D.), also known as allopathic physicians, or doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.). While both M.D.s and D.O.s utilize similar treatment methods, including drugs and surgery, D.O.s emphasize preventive and holistic medicine, as well as treating the musculoskeletal system. D.O.s usually work as primary care specialists but there are other specialists. About 50 percent of D.O.s specialize in general or family medicine, general internal medicine, or general pediatrics.

Many physicians specialize in surgery, psychiatry, gynecology, obstetrics, general pediatrics, internal medicine, family medicine, and anesthesiology.

Anesthesiologists specialize in pain reduction and monitor patients under the influence of medication during surgery. Anesthesiologists continually monitor and assess a patient's vital life functions: heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing during surgery.

Anesthesiologists administer pain relief medication in the intensive care unit, during labor and delivery, and patients suffering from chronic pain. Anesthesiologists collaborate with other physicians and surgeons about treatment options before, during, and after operations.

Family and general practitioners, also known as family doctors, perform general physician duties. They treat many conditions such as sinus and respiratory infections to fractured bones. Family and general practitioners usually have an established clientele. Family and general practitioners refer very sick patients to specialists.

General internists diagnose and provide nonsurgical treatment for problems affecting the internal organ systems. General internists usually work as primary care specialists. Other specialists often refer patients to general internists, and they refer patients to other specialists when specialized care is recommended.

General pediatricians treat infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. They specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of numerous health problems specific to younger people. Most pediatricians treat day-to-day illnesses such as minor injuries, infectious diseases, as well as perform immunizations. Pediatric surgeons and other specialists treat major pediatric health problems such as autoimmune disorders or serious chronic ailments.

Obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYNs) specialize in women's general and reproductive health. OB/GYNs diagnose and treat health problems specific to the female anatomy, such as breast and ovarian cancer or urinary tract, pelvic, and hormonal disorders. OB/GYNs also assist women throughout pregnancy, deliver babies, and provide postpartum care.

Psychiatrists provide mental health services. They use a combination of psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, hospitalization, and medication to diagnose and treat mental health ailments. During psychotherapy, patients discuss their problems with their psychiatrists who help them find solutions. Psychiatrists use psychoanalysis for long-term psychotherapy and counseling. Psychiatrists often prescribe medications to correct chemical imbalances leading to emotional problems. Psychiatrists can use electroconvulsive therapy to treat patients who cannot take medication.

Surgeons perform operations to treat injury, disease, and deformity. Many surgeons perform general surgery, but many surgeons specialize in a specific area. A common specialist is an orthopedic surgery who performs surgery to correct musculoskeletal system problems. Other specialists include neurological surgeons, cardiovascular surgeons, otolaryngology surgeons specializing in the treatment of the ear, nose, and throat, and plastic or reconstructive surgeons. Similar to other doctors, surgeons examine patients, perform and interpret diagnostic tests, and discuss preventative care options with patients.

Other surgical or physician specialists include radiologists, pathologists, ophthalmologists, gastroenterologists, emergency room physicians, allergists, cardiologists, and dermatologists.

Work environment. Many physicians, usually family practitioners, general internists, pediatricians, OB/GYNs, and psychiatrists work in small clinics with a small staff of nurses and other employees. More physicians are now working for health care organizations that make it possible for them to have more time off. Physicians working for health care organization work in teams to provide patients with health care. Surgeons and anesthesiologists work in well lit, sterile hospitals, and usually stand for long periods of time while performing surgery.

Many physicians and surgeons work long hours. In 2006, one-third of physicians and surgeons worked 60 or more hours a week. Most physicians work full time since 8 percent of physicians and surgeons worked part-time. Physicians deal with patients' concerns around the clock since most are always on call.

Physicians are employed at hospitals, medical clinics, assisted living facilities, colleges and universities, and community health centers. Many physicians establish and manage private practices.

To accommodate projected future demand, medical schools are admitting more students. It's likely that physicians will work less, retire younger, and make less money in the upcoming years. Numerous opportunities are available for physicians in poor and rural areas.

Physicians frequently network with other physicians and medical specialists to find jobs. The American Medical Association (AMA) offers an excellent networking service for physicians.

Career Training and Education
Most medical schools only admit students with bachelor's degrees, but a few schools only require 3 years of undergraduate study. They also require the completion of certain prerequisites prior to admission. Every medical school requires applicants to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and submit letters of recommendation. The American Medical College Application Service enables applicants to submit applications to multiple schools simultaneously.

Medical school lasts 4 years, and it's followed by a 3-8 year residency. The length of residencies is determined by specialty. During the first 2 years, medical students should expect to spend most of their time in classrooms and studying. They acquire practical experience during the subsequent 2 years.

Information about available residencies and medical school in general can be obtained from the Association of American Medical Schools, and from these organizations:

  • Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education
  • American Medical Student Association
  • Student National Medical Association
  • Student Doctor Network

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