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Physician/Surgeon Overview - Preparation - Specialty Areas -
Day In The Life - Earnings - Employment - Career Path Forecast - Professional Organizations - Overview PowerPoint - Overview Podcast


Specialty Areas
Physicians and surgeons work in one or more of several specialties, including, but not limited to, anesthesiology, family and general medicine, general internal medicine, general pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, ophthalmology, psychiatry, and surgery. The
American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) represents the medical specialty boards which cover the following specialties within medicine:
 

Allergy and Immunology
An allergist-immunologist is trained in evaluation, physical and laboratory diagnosis, and management of disorders involving the immune system. Selected examples of such conditions include asthma, anaphylaxis, rhinitis, eczema, and adverse reactions to drugs, foods, and insect stings as well as immune deficiency diseases (both acquired and congenital), defects in host defense, and problems related to autoimmune disease, organ transplantation, or malignancies of the immune system. As our understanding of the immune system develops, the scope of this specialty is widening. Training programs are available at some medical centers to provide individuals with expertise in both allergy/immunology and adult rheumatology, or in both allergy/immunology and pediatric pulmonology. Such individuals are candidates for dual certification.
     Training Required: Prior certification in Internal Medicine or Pediatrics; two years in Allergy/Immunology.
     More Details: American Board of Allergy and Immunology

Anesthesiology
Anesthesiologists focus on the care of surgical patients and pain relief. Like other physicians, they evaluate and treat patients and direct the efforts of their staffs. Through continual monitoring and assessment, these critical care specialists are responsible for maintenance of the patient's vital life functions -- heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, breathing -- during surgery. They also work outside of the operating room, providing pain relief in the intensive care unit, during labor and delivery, and for those who suffer from chronic pain. Anesthesiologists confer with other physicians and surgeons about appropriate treatments and procedures before, during, and after operations.
     Training Required: Four years
     More Details: American Board of Anesthesiology

Colon and Rectal Surgery
A colon and rectal surgeon is trained to diagnose and treat various diseases of the intestinal tract, colon, rectum, anal canal, and perianal area by medical and surgical means. This specialist also deals with other organs and tissues (such as the liver, urinary, and female reproductive system) involved with primary intestinal disease. Colon and rectal surgeons have the expertise to diagnose and often manage anorectal conditions such as hemorrhoids, fissures (painful tears in the anal lining), abscesses and fistulae (infections located around the anus and rectum) in the office setting. They also treat problems of the intestine and colon, and perform endoscopic procedures to evaluate and treat problems such as cancer, polyps (precancerous growths), and inflammatory conditions.
     Training Required: Six years (including surgery)
     More Details: American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery

Dermatology
A dermatologist is trained to diagnose and treat pediatric and adult patients with benign and malignant disorders of the skin, mouth, external genitalia, hair and nails, as well as a number of sexually transmitted diseases. The dermatologist has had additional training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers, melanomas, moles, and other tumors of the skin, the management of contact dermatitis, and other allergic and nonallergic skin disorders, and in the recognition of the skin manifestations of systemic (including internal malignancy) and infectious diseases. Dermatologists have special training in dermatopathology and in the surgical techniques used in dermatology. They also have expertise in the management of cosmetic disorders of the skin such as hair loss and scars, and the skin changes associated with aging.
     Training Required: Four years

     More Details: American Board of Dermatology

Emergency Medicine
An emergency physician focuses on the immediate decision making and action necessary to prevent death or any further disability both in the pre-hospital setting by directing emergency medical technicians and in the emergency department. The emergency physician provides immediate recognition, evaluation, care, stabilization and disposition of a generally diversified population of adult and pediatric patients in response to acute illness and injury.
     Training Required: Three years
     More Details: American Board of Emergency Medicine

Family Medicine
Family and general practitioners are often the first point of contact for people seeking health care, acting as the traditional family doctor. They assess and treat a wide range of conditions, ailments, and injuries, from sinus and respiratory infections to broken bones and scrapes. Family and general practitioners typically have a patient base of regular, long-term visitors. Patients with more serious conditions are referred to specialists or other health care facilities for more intensive care. A family physician is concerned with the total health care of the individual and the family, and is trained to diagnose and treat a wide variety of ailments in patients of all ages. The family physician receives a broad range of training that includes internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, and geriatrics. Special emphasis is placed on prevention and the primary care of entire families, utilizing consultations and community resources when appropriate.
     Training Required: Three years
     More Details: American Board of Family Medicine

Internal Medicine
A personal physician who provides long-term, comprehensive care in the office and the hospital, managing both common and complex illness of adolescents, adults, and the elderly, Internists are trained in the diagnosis and non-surgical treatment of cancer, infections, and diseases affecting the heart, blood, kidneys, joints, and digestive, respiratory and vascular systems. They are also trained in the essentials of primary care internal medicine, which incorporates an understanding of disease prevention, wellness, substance abuse, mental health, and effective treatment of common problems of the eyes, ears, skin, nervous system, and reproductive organs. They refer patients to other specialists when more complex care is required.
     Training Required: Three years
     More Details: American Board of Internal Medicine

Medical Genetics
A specialist trained in diagnostic and therapeutic procedures for patients with genetically linked diseases. This specialist uses modern cytogenetic, radiologic, and biochemical testing to assist in specialized genetic counseling, implement needed therapeutic interventions, and provide prevention through prenatal diagnosis. A medical geneticist plans and coordinates large-scale screening programs for inborn errors of metabolism, hemoglobinopathies, chromosome abnormalities, and neural tube defects.
     Training Required: Two to four years
     More Details: American Board of Medical Genetics

Neurological Surgery
A neurological surgeon provides the operative and non-operative management (i.e., prevention, diagnosis, evaluation, treatment, critical care, and rehabilitation) of disorders of the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous systems, including their supporting structures and vascular supply; the evaluation and treatment of pathological processes which modify function or activity of the nervous system; and the operative and non-operative management of pain. A neurological surgeon treats patients with disorders of the nervous system; disorders of the brain, meninges, skull, and their blood supply, including the extracranial carotid and vertebral arteries; disorders of the pituitary gland; disorders of the spinal cord, meninges, and vertebral column, including those which may require treatment by spinal fusion or instrumentation; and disorders of the cranial and spinal nerves throughout their distribution.
     Training Required: Seven years (including surgery)
     More Details: American Board of Neurological Surgery

Neurology/Child Neurology
A neurologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of all types of disease or impaired function of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, muscles, and autonomic nervous system, as well as the blood vessels that relate to these structures. A child neurologist has special skills in the diagnosis and management of neurologic disorders of the neonatal period, infancy, early childhood, and adolescence.
     Training Required: Four years
     More Details: American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Nuclear Medicine
A nuclear medicine specialist employs the properties of radioactive atoms and molecules in the diagnosis and treatment of disease, and in research. Radiation detection and imaging instrument systems are used to detect disease as it changes the function and metabolism of normal cells, tissues, and organs. A wide variety of diseases can be found in this way, usually before the structure of the organ involved by the disease can be seen to be abnormal by any other techniques. Early detection of coronary artery disease (including acute heart attack); early cancer detection and evaluation of the effect of tumor treatment; diagnosis of infection and inflammation anywhere in the body; and early detection of blood clot in the lungs are all possible with these techniques. Unique forms of radioactive molecules can attack and kill cancer cells (e.g., lymphoma, thyroid cancer) or can relieve the severe pain of cancer that has spread to bone. The nuclear medicine specialist has special knowledge in the biologic effects of radiation exposure, the fundamentals of the physical sciences and the principles and operation of radiation detection and imaging instrumentation systems.
     Training Required: Three years
     More Details: American Board of Nuclear Medicine

Obstetrics and Gynecology
An obstetrician/gynecologist possesses special knowledge, skills, and professional capability in the medical and surgical care of the female reproductive system and associated disorders. This physician serves as a consultant to other physicians, and as a primary physician for women. Like general practitioners, ob/gyns are concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of general health problems, but they focus on ailments specific to the female anatomy, such as breast and cervical cancer, urinary tract and pelvic disorders, and hormonal disorders. Ob/gyns also specialize in childbirth, treating and counseling women throughout their pregnancy, from giving prenatal diagnoses to delivery and postpartum care. Ob/gyns track the health of, and treat, both mother and fetus as the pregnancy progresses.
     Training Required: Four years plus two years in clinical practice before certification is complete.
     More Details: American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Ophthalmology
Ophthalmology is the branch of medicine which deals with the diseases and surgery of the visual pathways, including the eye and brain. The word ophthalmology comes from the Greek roots ophthalmos meaning eye and logos meaning word; ophthalmology literally means "The science of eyes." An ophthalmologist has the knowledge and professional skills needed to provide comprehensive eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are medically trained to diagnose, monitor, and medically or surgically treat all ocular and visual disorders. This includes problems affecting the eye and its component structures, the eyelids, the orbit and the visual pathways. In so doing, an ophthalmologist prescribes vision services, including glasses and contact lenses.
     Training Required: Four years

     More Details: American Board of Ophthalmology

Orthopaedic Surgery
An orthopaedic surgeon is trained in the preservation, investigation, and restoration of the form and function of the extremities, spine, and associated structures by medical, surgical, and physical means. An orthopaedic surgeon is involved with the care of patients whose musculoskeletal problems include congenital deformities, trauma, infections, tumors, metabolic disturbances of the musculoskeletal system, deformities, injuries, and degenerative diseases of the spine, hands, feet, knee, hip, shoulder, and elbow in children and adults. An orthopaedic surgeon is also concerned with primary and secondary muscular problems and the effects of central or peripheral nervous system lesions of the musculoskeletal system.
     Training Required: Five years (including surgery training) plus two years in clinical practice before final certification is achieved

     More Details: American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery

Otolaryngology
An otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon provides comprehensive medical and surgical care for patients with diseases and disorders that affect the ears, nose, throat, the respiratory and upper alimentary systems and related structures of the head and neck. An otolaryngologist diagnoses and provides medical and/or surgical therapy or prevention of diseases, allergies, neoplasms, deformities, disorders and/or injuries of the ears, nose, sinuses, throat, respiratory and upper alimentary systems, face, jaws, and the other head and neck systems. Head and neck oncology, facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, and the treatment of disorders of hearing and voice are fundamental areas of expertise.
     Training Required: Five years

     More Details: American Board of Otolaryngology

Pathology
A pathologist deals with the causes and nature of disease and contributes to diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment through knowledge gained by the laboratory application of the biologic, chemical, and physical sciences. A pathologist uses information gathered from the microscopic examination of tissue specimens, cells, and body fluids, and from clinical laboratory tests on body fluids and secretions for the diagnosis, exclusion, and monitoring of disease. To acknowledge the diverse activities in the practice of pathology and to accommodate the interests of individuals wanting to enter the field, the ABP offers primary certification through the following three routes: combined anatomic pathology and clinical pathology, anatomic pathology only, and clinical pathology only. A variety of subspecialty certificates is offered. Primary certification in anatomic pathology or clinical pathology may be combined with some of the subspecialty certifications.
     Training Required: Three to four years
     More Details: American Board of Pathology

Pediatrics
A pediatrician is concerned with the physical, emotional, and social health of children from birth to young adulthood. Care encompasses a broad spectrum of health services ranging from preventive health care to the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic diseases. A pediatrician deals with biological, social, and environmental influences on the developing child, and with the impact of disease and dysfunction on development. Providing care from birth to early adulthood, pediatricians are concerned with the health of infants, children, and teenagers. They specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of ailments specific to young people and track their patients' growth to adulthood. Like most physicians, pediatricians work with different health care workers, such as nurses and other physicians, to assess and treat children with various ailments, such as muscular dystrophy. Most of the work of pediatricians, however, involves treating day-to-day illnesses that are common to children -- minor injuries, infectious diseases, and immunizations -- much as a general practitioner treats adults. Some pediatricians specialize in serious medical conditions and pediatric surgery, treating autoimmune disorders or serious chronic ailments.
     Training Required: Three years
     More Details: American Board of Pediatrics

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Physical medicine and rehabilitation, also referred to as rehabilitation medicine, is the medical specialty concerned with diagnosing, evaluating, and treating patients with physical disabilities. These disabilities may arise from conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system such as neck and back pain, sports injuries, or other painful conditions affecting the limbs, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Alternatively, the disabilities may result from neurological trauma or disease such as spinal cord injury, head injury, or stroke. A physician certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation is often called a physiatrist. The primary goal of the physiatrist is to achieve maximal restoration of physical, psychological, social, and vocational function through comprehensive rehabilitation. Pain management is often an important part of the role of the physiatrist. For diagnosis and evaluation, a physiatrist may include the techniques of electromyography to supplement the standard history, physical, x-ray, and laboratory examinations. The physiatrist has expertise in the appropriate use of therapeutic exercise, prosthetics (artificial limbs), orthotics, and mechanical and electrical devices.
     Training Required: Four years plus one year clinical practice.
     More Details: American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Plastic Surgery
A plastic surgeon deals with the repair, reconstruction, or replacement of physical defects of form or function involving the skin, musculoskeletal system, craniomaxillofacial structures, hand, extremities, breast and trunk, and external genitalia or cosmetic enhancement of these areas of the body. Cosmetic surgery is an essential component of plastic surgery. The plastic surgeon uses cosmetic surgical principles to both improve overall appearance and to optimize the outcome of reconstructive procedures. The surgeon uses aesthetic surgical principles not only to improve undesirable qualities of normal structures but in all reconstructive procedures as well. Special knowledge and skill in the design and surgery of grafts, flaps, and free tissue transfer and replantation is necessary. Competence in the management of complex wounds, the use of implantable materials, and in tumor surgery is required. Plastic surgeons have been prominent in the development of innovative techniques such as microvascular and craniomaxillofacial surgery, liposuction, and tissue transfer. Anatomy, physiology, pathology, and other basic sciences are fundamental to the specialty. Competency in plastic surgery implies an amalgam of basic medical and surgical knowledge, operative judgment, technical expertise, ethical behavior, and interpersonal skills to achieve problem resolution and patient satisfaction.
     Training Required: Five to seven years
     More Details: American Board of Plastic Surgery

Preventive Medicine

A preventive medicine specialist focuses on the health of individuals and defined populations in order to protect, promote and maintain health and well-being, and to prevent disease, disability and premature death. The distinctive components of preventive medicine include:

  • Biostatistics and the application of biostatistical principles and methodology;
  • Epidemiology and its application to population-based medicine and research;
  • Health services management and administration including: developing, assessing, and assuring health policies; planning, implementing, directing, budgeting, and evaluating population health and disease management programs; and utilizing legislative and regulatory processes to enhance health;
  • Control of environmental factors that may adversely affect health;
  • Control and prevention of occupational factors that may adversely affect health safety;
  • Clinical preventive medicine activities, including measures to promote health and prevent the occurrence, progression, and disabling effects of disease and injury; and
  • Assessment of social, cultural, and behavioral influences on health.

A preventive medicine physician may be a specialist in general preventive medicine, public health, occupational medicine, or aerospace medicine. This specialist works with large population groups as well as with individual patients to promote health and understand the risks of disease, injury, disability, and death, seeking to modify and eliminate these risks.
     Training Required: Three years
     More Details: American Board of Preventive Medicine

Psychiatry
A psychiatrist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, addictive, and emotional disorders such as schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance-related disorders, sexual and gender identity disorders, and adjustment disorders. The psychiatrist is able to understand the biologic, psychologic, and social components of illness, and therefore is uniquely prepared to treat the whole person. A psychiatrist is qualified to order diagnostic laboratory tests and to prescribe medications, evaluate and treat psychologic and interpersonal problems, and to intervene with families who are coping with stress, crises, and other problems in living.
     Training Required: Four years
     More Details: American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Radiology
A radiologist utilizes radiologic methodologies to diagnose and treat disease. Physicians practicing in the field of radiology most often specialize in radiology, diagnostic radiology, radiation oncology, or radiologic physics. Within Diagnostic Radiology, a radiologist would utilizes x-ray, radionuclides, ultrasound, and electromagnetic radiation to diagnose and treat disease. Within Radiation Oncology, a radiologist would deal with the therapeutic applications of radiant energy and its modifiers and the study and management of disease, especially malignant tumors. Within Radiologic Physics, a radiological physicist deals with the diagnostic and therapeutic applications of roentgen rays, gamma rays from sealed sources, ultrasonic radiation, and radio-frequency radiation, as well as the equipment associated with their production and use, including radiation safety.
     Training Required: Four years
     More Details: American Board of Radiology

Surgery
A general surgeon has expertise related to the diagnosis; preoperative, operative, and postoperative management; and management of complications of surgical conditions in the following areas: alimentary tract; abdomen; breast, skin and soft tissue; endocrine system; head and neck surgery; pediatric surgery; surgical critical care; surgical oncology; trauma and burns; and vascular surgery. General surgeons increasingly provide care through the use of minimally invasive and endoscopic techniques. Many general surgeons also possess expertise in transplantation surgery, plastic surgery and cardiothoracic surgery.
     Training Required: Five years
     More Details: American Board of Surgery

Thoracic Surgery
A thoracic surgeon provides the operative, perioperative, and critical care of patients with pathologic conditions within the chest. Included is the surgical care of coronary artery disease, cancers of the lung, esophagus and chest wall, abnormalities of the trachea, abnormalities of the great vessels and heart valves, congenital anomalies, tumors of the mediastinum, and diseases of the diaphragm. The management of the airway and injuries of the chest is within the scope of the specialty. Thoracic surgeons have the knowledge, experience and technical skills to accurately diagnose, operate upon safely, and effectively manage patients with thoracic diseases of the chest. This requires substantial knowledge of cardiorespiratory physiology and oncology, as well as capability in the use of heart assist devices, management of abnormal heart rhythms and drainage of the chest cavity, respiratory support systems, endoscopy, and invasive and noninvasive diagnostic techniques.
     Training Required: Seven to eight years
     More Details: American Board of Thoracic Surgery

Urology
A urologist manages benign and malignant medical and surgical disorders of the genitourinary system and the adrenal gland. This specialist has comprehensive knowledge of and skills in endoscopic, percutaneous, and open surgery of congenital and acquired conditions of the urinary and reproductive systems and their contiguous structures.
     Training Required: Five years
     More Details: American Board of Urology

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the American Board of Medical Specialties, which offer more details on each of these specialties.
 


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