Medical Specialties – The Different Fields of Medicine
With how intricate the medical field is, it’s easy to get lost while searching for the right specialty for you. If you’re an aspiring doctor looking for guidance on which specialty to pick, look no further.
Table of Contents
- Family Medicine
- Internal Medicine
- Emergency Medicine
- Preventative Medicine
- Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
- Obstetrics & Gynecology
- Osteopathic Medicine
- Radiation Oncology
- Nuclear Medicine
- Allergy & Immunity
- Medical Genetics & Genomics
- General Surgery
- Colon & Rectal Surgery
- Plastic Surgery
- Neurological Surgery
- Orthopaedic Surgery
General Medicine Specialties
For medical students who have trouble deciding on a specific medical focus, choosing towards a general medicine specialty may be a good career pathway. These specialties focus on a specific type of patient rather than a specific type of medicine. There are 6 officially recognized specialties in general medicine.
Family practice doctors serve as the general point of contact for an entire family. They will see patients of any age group, from babies to senior citizens. They will provide general care and treat common illnesses, but will likely refer out to other specialists for more complicated conditions or diseases.
Internal medicine is similar to family practice, but most internists won’t treat children. Instead, internal medicine focuses exclusively on treating adults and their common conditions. Like family practice doctors, internists will generally refer patients to specialists when more complicated conditions or treatments are necessary.
Pediatricians, or doctors who specialize in pediatric care, provide general treatment for patients who are children. A pediatrician will generally work with newborn babies all the way up to 18-year-old young adults. These doctors specialize in making sure children stay healthy with routine childhood immunizations and identifying and treating common childhood illnesses.
Doctors who specialize in emergency medicine most likely aspire to work in the emergency room of a hospital. These physicians learn to treat patients who require immediate medical attention, and many patients may even be in life-threatening conditions. Emergency doctors must be prepared to act quickly and think clearly in a variety of stressful situations.
Doctors who choose a preventive medicine pathway will likely work in research for most of their careers. These specialists focus on the prevention of disease and the development of community-based programs to make these prevention efforts widespread. They may also conduct public health programs that assess the effectiveness of prevention programs or teach other doctors and medical professionals proper techniques for preventing disease.
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Rehabilitation specialists work with patients who have suffered a debilitating illness or injury. These doctors help their patients learn to recover from their illness or injury and overcome any physical limitations that directly resulted from the condition. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R) doctors might help a patient regain the ability to walk after a serious car accident, or they may teach an amputee how to function with normal life skills after the amputation.
Some physicians may decide to specialize in medicine that deals with a specific part, or function, of the body. By focusing their medical expertise on one specific function, these doctors become very adept at identifying, managing, and treating conditions within their functional area. There are 6 officially recognized specialties that focus on a functional area.
Dermatologists focus on diseases and conditions related to the dermal layer, which includes skin, hair, and nails. These specialists may treat mild conditions such as non-cancerous moles or acne, or they may treat severe injury cases requiring skin grafts.
Doctors who specialize in neurology treat conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. These doctors treat a variety of nervous system disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, strokes, migraines, or epilepsy.
Obstetrics & Gynecology
These specialists, typically referred to as OB-GYNs, focus on treating the female reproductive system. Physicians focusing primarily on gynecology will provide routine female reproductive care, while obstetricians will also provide care for women during pregnancy.
Interested in Obstetrics & Gynecology? Learn what an OBY-GYN is here..
Ophthalmologists diagnose and treat conditions of the eyes. They may work in a vision clinic providing routine vision correction services, or they may help patients with conditions such as glaucoma or cataracts.
While many doctors choose to go to medical school to earn an MD (Doctor of Medicine) degree, others choose to attend an Osteopathic school and become a DO (Doctor of Osteopathy). This approach to medicine focuses on treating symptoms and illnesses by manipulating the bones, joints, and muscles. Most DOs learn healing and treatment methods known as Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment.
Urologists treat conditions related to the urinary tract and the male reproductive system. Although these doctors are not exclusive to male patients, they will likely have a higher patient population of males than females. This specialization can be considered a surgical specialization, since many diseases and conditions related to the urinary tract often require surgery. These doctors treat diseases of the bladder, kidneys, adrenal glands, and testes.
It can often be challenging to diagnose and treat conditions when they’re happening inside the human body. This is where doctors specializing in radiology, or medical imaging, can help in a big way. This can include basic X-ray images, CT scans, ultrasounds, or even magnetic resonance images (MRIs). There are 3 officially recognized specialties within the field of radiology.
Radiologists train to read and interpret a variety of medical images. When a primary care doctor orders an X-ray to check for injuries, those images are sent to a radiologist who reviews the images and determines if there are any fractures, breaks, or other issues. More complex images, such as CT scans or MRIs can check for tumors, internal bleeding, or other complicated issues. Once the radiologist evaluates the images, he or she then reports the findings back to the doctor for treatment.
Cancer is a scary diagnosis, but radiation oncologists can help cancer patients identify cancers earlier, treat cancers faster, and live longer with the disease. These doctors specialize in using radiation to treat cancer, with a special focus on finding the right balance of aggressive treatment and minimal side effects.
In some cases, even the best medical images cannot accurately find issues inside the body. To diagnose conditions that disrupt organ function, some radiologists use radiotracers – small amounts of radioactive material that are typically injected or swallowed – to diagnose more complicated conditions. Since too much radioactivity is harmful to the human body, radiologists specializing in nuclear medicine are properly trained on the amounts and methods that are appropriate for a variety of conditions.
While some doctors treat organs or body parts, others identify and treat microscopic organisms – those too small to be seen by the naked eye. These organisms may be small, but they can still cause considerable damage to patients if left untreated. There are 3 officially recognized specialties that treat microscopic particles.
Allergy & Immunology
Allergens are substances that can cause an excessive immune response in some humans that would be harmless for most people. People can be allergic to common outdoor allergens, such as pollen or grasses, food allergens, such as peanuts or gluten, or other allergens, such as bee venom or latex. Doctors specializing in allergy & immunology identify which allergens trigger immune responses in their patients and then determine an appropriate course of treatment or prevention.
Medical Genetics & Genomics
Through years of research, doctors have learned that many illnesses are genetic or have at least some genetic component. Doctors specializing in medical genetics & genomics work to diagnose, manage, and treat hereditary conditions by evaluating the human genome. These doctors may also work in a research facility to make advancements in our understanding of the interaction between genes and health.
Pathology is the branch of medicine that studies disease. Pathologists may work with bacteria and viruses that cause disease, or they can examine environmental factors and other molecules to find and identify root causes of disease. Many pathologists use laboratory tests, such as urine, blood, or tissue samples to diagnose patients.
Surgeons are highly regarded within the medical community, and they are some of the highest paid doctors in their respective fields. These doctors must have a steady hand and work well under pressure; while some surgeries are considered “routine”, even basic surgeries can have risky complications. There are 7 officially recognized surgical specialties.
Contrary to it’s suggested name, a general surgeon is actually quite specialized. General surgeons do treat a variety of conditions, but they tend to focus on surgeries within a patient’s abdomen – surgeries on the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. All aspiring surgeons must complete a general surgery residency before moving on to their desired specialty area.
Colon & Rectal Surgery
This field, also known as colorectal surgery, focuses on surgeries to the primary intestines, colon, rectum, anal canal, and urinary tract. These surgeons will often remove polyps or tumors that are located on these organs, or even remove disease portions of the organs when necessary.
This specialty involves surgery to various parts of the body with the intent to improve function or appearance. Some plastic surgeons focus primarily on cosmetic surgeries, such as face lifts or breast enhancements. Other surgeons focus primarily on reconstructive surgeries, such as skin grafts for burn victims or repairs of cleft palates.
These specialists are more commonly referred to as brain surgeons, though they can perform surgery on any part of the nervous system, including the spinal cord or nerves. These doctors often treat major trauma, tumors, brain or spinal infections, strokes, or degenerative diseases.
Doctors who specialize in otolaryngology are also known as head and neck surgeons. These doctors perform surgery on the soft tissues and passageways within the head and neck, including the ear canals, nasal passages, vocal cords, and throat. These doctors can also perform reconstructive surgery on the bones in face, jaw, skull, and neck above the collarbones.
These surgeons focus on issues concerning the musculoskeletal system. Orthopaedic surgeons can perform surgeries on the joints, knees, feet, hips, shoulders, and elbows, often as a result of sports injuries or other jarring traumas. These surgeons can also perform hip or knee replacements due to deformity or deterioration.