Welcome to MedicalSpecialties.com! This site will be a hub for information relevant to various medical specialties such as internal medicine, dermatology, gynecology, ophthalmology, etc. Scroll down for information about various medical specialties.
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There are two types of physician in the United States. One has an M.D. (doctor of medicine) degree, and the other has a D.O. (doctor of osteopathic medicine) degree. Both M.D.s and D.O.s must pass a state medical board examination in order to obtain a license and enter practice. Either may receive training and become certified in a medical specialty or subspecialty.
After medical school a physician completes a 1 year internship, after which time he/she can act as a general practitioner. Most physicians choose to specialize in a particular form of medicine. Some of these specialties are described below. The year of internship may or may not be included as part of the fellowship training. During the fellowship training period, the physician is referred to as an “intern”. This is not the same as an “internist” (see below). After completing the fellowship, a physician may take a qualifying exam offered by one of the medical boards. Upon successful completion of the exam, the physician becomes board certified in the specialty. Periodic reexaminations are now required to maintain certification.
Many activities of physician specialists overlap. For example, an internist, a family practitioner or a gerantologist may provide the primary care to an elderly patient. However, a general description of many specialties is listed below.
Anesthesiology- To become an anesthesiologist, a physician generally attends a 3 year training program, and afterwards may choose to pursue additional training to specialize in a particular type of anesthesia. Anesthesiologists are mainly known as physicians who administer anesthesia to relieve pain and suppress consciousness during surgery. They generally evaluate the patient before surgery, administer the medication to produce unconsciousness and/or pain control and support life functions during surgery, and supervise care after surgery, medically discharging the patient from the recovery unit. Anesthesiologists also prescribe and administer drug therapies for acute or chronic pain. During childbirth, the anesthesiologist provides pain relief with epidural or spinal blocks for the mother and manages the life functions of both the mother and the baby.
Dermatology– To become a dermatologist, a physician attends a 3 year training program. They focus on treating diseases of the skin, hair and nails including skin cancers, psoriasis, acne, cutaneous T cell lymphoma, scleroderma and atopic dermatitis. They are also trained in procedures such as skin grafting, removal of skin cancers and laser surgery.
Family and Community Medicine- A family practitioner is a primary care physician that attends a three year residency program. During that time the physician is trained in pediatrics, surgery, internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, psychiatry, emergency medicine, and family medicine. They treat patients of all ages and sometimes choose to practice in rural environments where there is poor access to medical care.
Internal Medicine- An internist is a primary care physician that specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of all forms of adult disease. The three year residency training course prepares the internist to manage all non-surgical phases of patient care, from office visits to complex hospital cases. They are often called on to treat elderly people with multiple medical problems. When indicated the internist coordinates the activities of the consulting sub-specialist(s).
Subspecialties of internal medicine allow a physician to focus on diseases of a single organ system.
Allergy and Immunology- An allergist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic diseases including asthma. An allergic disease results with the immune system that normally protects the body from harmful invaders such as viruses or bacteria, incorrectly recognizes a harmless substance such as pollen as a target for the immune system to attack. The reaction can produce undesirable and sometimes, life-threatening symptoms. To train as an allergist a physician who has completed an internal medicine or pediatric fellowship completes 3 years of additional training to identify the factors that initiate allergic diseases, and help patients to prevent or treat these conditions.
Cardiovascular Disease– To become a cardiologist, a physician trained in internal medicine completes 4 to 5 years of additional training. Cardiologists specialize in diseases of the heart and vascular system. Cardiologists treat heart attacks, heart failure, and abnormal heart rhythms. They perform heart catheterization by which a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel going to the heart, in order to obtain information about the heart and the arteries supplying it. They also perform balloon angioplasty as a treatment for narrowed arteries in which a balloon-tipped catheter is inserted into an artery, usually the ones supplying the heart, to widen the vessel wall, thus increasing blood flow to a given area. After evaluation, they decide if heart surgery or other surgical procedures are needed.
Endocrinology– To become an endocrinologist, a physician trained in internal medicine completes 2 to 3 years of additional training in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases associated with internal glandular secretions or hormones. Diseases addressed by this specialty include diabetes, diseases of the thyroid gland, cholesterol disorders, hypertension, osteoporosis, adrenal and pituitary glands, hormonal disorders causing infertility, low blood sugar, abnormal development, low blood pressure and certain weight problems.
Gastroenterology- To become a gastroenterologist, a physician trained in internal medicine completes 3 years of additional training that focuses on diseases of the digestive tract. These include diseases of the esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, small intestine, and colon. They often use an endoscope, a long, thin, flexible tube with a small video camera and light on the end, to examine the GI tract and obtain biopsy samples.
Geriatric Medicine– To receive training as a gerontologist, a physician trained in internal medicine completes an additional year of training that focuses on the care of the elderly. In addition to treatment of diseases that affect the elderly, they address such problems as incontinence, impaired memory, and confusion.
Hematology/Oncology- A hematologist diagnoses and treats diseases of the blood and bone marrow. This includes diseases such as leukemias, lymphomas, anemias, and hemophelia. An oncologist diagnoses and treats solid (non-blood related) cancers. Physicians often get trained in both hematology and oncology. After completing an internal medicine residency, an additional year of hematology and/or oncology is required. Sometimes a third year of research is completed. Additional years of training are also offered to specialize in particular areas.
Infectious Diseases- An infectious disease specialist receives 2 to 3 years of additional training after completing an internal medicine residency. They diagnose and treat all forms of infectious disease in both hospital and outpatient settings. These include bacterial , fungal, parasitic and viral infections, tuberculosis, infections associated with HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. They are knowledgeable in the treatment of diseases present in other parts of the world and are frequently consulted for prophylactic treatment before traveling to regions where an infectious disease is endemic.
Nephrology– To become a nephrologist, a physician trained in internal medicine must complete 3 additional years of training that focuses on the treatment of kidney diseases. Normal kidneys clean the blood by filtering excess fluid and waste from the blood. When the kidneys fail, multiple problems can occur such as elevated blood pressure, accumulation of fluid and toxic substances, and failure to make sufficient red blood cells. The nephrologist manages and treats these problems, and manages the treatment of patients receiving dialysis.
Pulmonary Disease– To become a pulmonologist, a physician trained in internal medicine receives 3 additional years of training that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of the respiratory tract. This includes diseases such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, respiratory failure and asthma. They manage the treatment of patients with respiratory failure that require mechanical ventilation. After passing an examination, a pulmonologist is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.
Neurology– A neurologist is a physician with specialized training in diagnosing, and treating disorders of the brain and nervous system. The training of a neurologist includes one year of internship and 3 years of specialized training. Many neurologists have additional training in one area of neurology. They often act as consultants to primary care physicians and at other times provide long-term management of patients with disorders such as stroke, epilepsy, movement disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, headaches, Parkinson’s disease, tremor, and brain and spinal cord injuries.
Obstetrics and Gynecology- Obstetrics focuses on the management of women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the six week period after childbirth, whereas gynecology focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the female reproductive organs, including the breasts. A physician receives 4 years of training in both obstetrics and gynecology to practice this specialty. Although much of their activity involves performing surgical procedures they also treat menstrual problems and address issues related to contraception, sexuality, menopause, and infertility. In this regard, some gynecologists act as primary care physicians. With additional years of training, an OB-GYN may specialize in maternal-fetal medicine, reproductive endocrinology/ infertility and gynecologic oncology, which involves cancers of the female reproductive system.
Ophthalmology- An ophthalmologist is a physician that is trained in all aspects of eye care. They medically and/or surgically treat conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, corneal transplants, and diabetic eye disease. They also provide care involving eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions. An ophthalmologist completes a year of internship and at least 3 additional years of training. Ophthalmologists are often confused with optometrists (O.D.). An optometrist does not attend medical school, but after receiving a bachelor’s degree, receives 4 years of graduate training from a school of optometry. Optometrists are trained to diagnose eye abnormalities and prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses. In most states optometrists can use drugs to diagnose eye disorders. An optometrist refers patients to an ophthalmologist or other medical specialist in cases requiring medication or surgery.
Pathology- Pathologists perform analysis and diagnosis of all tissues removed from patients for diagnostic purposes. The information pathologists provide to other physicians often determines further treatment. They also perform autopsies and supervise hospital and community based clinical laboratories. There are many specialties of pathology such as dermatopathology (involving diseases of the skin) and hematopathology (involving diseases of the blood system) that can be pursued beyond the 4 or 5 years of general training.
Pediatrics- Pediatricians focus their medical care on the physical, emotional, and social health of children from birth to young adulthood. They are primary care physicians that provide both preventive health care and the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic diseases. The general training period for this specialty is 3 years. A pediatrician can specialize in a particular type of pediatrics. Likewise, physicians of other specialties can focus their practice on children, such as a pediatric cardiologist.
Physical medicine and rehabilitation- Physical medicine and rehabilitation, also known as physiatry, is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, evaluation, and management of patients with physical and/or mental impairment or disability. They provide long-term management of patients with disabling diseases and supervise multidisciplinary teams concerned with restoration or development of maximum functional abilities in persons whose abilities have been limited by disease, trauma or pain. The training program period is for 4 years.
Psychiatry- A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. In addition to the four years of residency training in the field of psychiatry, many psychiatrists complete additional training so that they can specialize in such areas as child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, or forensic psychiatry.
Radiation Oncology- A radiation oncologist specializes in treating patients with radiation therapy. This involves the use of different kinds of radiation in the treatment of certain diseases, particularly cancer. Various types of radiation are used to destroy abnormal cells while sparing the normal surrounding tissue. In some cases radiation therapy may be used alone, but in other cases it may be combined with surgery and/or chemotherapy to achieve the best effect. A radiation oncologist works with an oncologist and/or surgeon in planning the course of treatment for a given patient. The residency for this specialty generally consists of an initial year of graduate medical education followed by 4 years of radiation oncology training.
Radiology– A radiologist is a physician that has received at least 4 years of training to become a specialist in the area of medical imaging. They are consulted by other physicians to perform procedures involving the use of X-rays (including CAT scans), ultrasound waves, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and radioisotopes in the diagnosis of various illnesses and conditions. Radiologists also participate in the treatment of many diseases, such as blocked arteries in the legs and in the neck.
General Surgery- A general surgeon is a physician that has completed at least 5 years of training in order to operate on all areas of the body. Surgeons frequently use flexible scopes (endoscopes) to look into the stomach, colon, lungs, abdomen and pelvis, reducing the need for some operations. In addition to traditional forms of surgery, laparoscopic surgery is used with increasing frequency due to its less invasive nature and reduced recovery time. A surgeon can complete additional years of training and focus on a specific system. Surgery subspecialties include:
Neurosurgery- Neurosurgeons specialize in the brain, spine, spinal cord and peripheral nerves.
Orthopedic surgery- Orthopedic surgeons specialize in the musculoskeletal system, including the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Otolaryngology- Otolaryngologists (often referred to as ENT physicians for Ear, Nose and Throat) specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the ear, nose, sinus, larynx (the muscular structure at the upper part of the trachea, pharynx (the passage that connects the mouth and nasal passage with the esophagus), thyroid, salivary glands, and esophagus, as well as cosmetic surgery of the face and neck.
Plastic Surgery- Plastic surgeon is trained in the reconstruction of facial and body defects due to birth disorders, trauma, burns, and disease, and with appearance enhancement operations such as facelifts, breast augmentation, and liposuction.
Thoracic and Cardiovascular (CV) Surgery- Thoracic and CV surgeons specialize in surgery of the blood vessels, lungs and heart. This involves treatments such as cardiac bypass, heart valve replacement, aortic reconstruction for abdominal aortic aneurysms, carotid endarterectomy for occluded carotid arteries, and surgery for lung cancer.
Urology- Urologists have specialized knowledge and skill with regard to problems of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. Some of the treatments they provide include removal of prostate, bladder, penile, and testicular cancer, performance of kidney transplants, treatment of male infertility, removal of kidney stones, and treatment of urinary incontinence and voiding disorders.