Types of Doctors

I'm Thinking of Becoming a Medical Doctor. What Are the Types of Physicians?

Physicians are categorized by a variety of factors including medical specialty, or patient population. Learn more about the different types of physicians you could become.

Primary Care - Family Medicine

Team of doctors discussing in hospital, smiling
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Family medicine is one of the options of primary care physicians. Family practice physicians see patients of all ages and provide basic care for a variety of more common ailments.

Primary Care - Internal Medicine

Internists also can provide primary care, or they can also sub-specialize into a variety of other areas such as gastroenterology or endocrinology, to name a few of many sub-specialties.

Internists usually have more hospital-based training than family practitioners, and internists do not typically see children under the age of 18.


Hospitalists only see patients in the hospital. Most hospitalists are physicians who trained in internal medicine but prefer hospital work over more clinic-based primary care. Some hospitalists may be trained in family practice, but that's not as common.


Surgeons can also be trained in general surgery, or more specialized types of surgery such as orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery or cardiac surgery. Surgeons spend a great deal of time in the operating room of a hospital or outpatient surgery center. The training to become a surgeon is typically several years longer than primary care and some medical sub-specialties.

Cardiologist (Sub-specialty of Internal Medicine)

Cardiology is one of many sub-specialties of internal medicine. Cardiologists focus on treatment of the heart and blood vessels of the cardiovascular system. There are many different types of cardiologists, focusing on different aspects of the field. Training to become a cardiologist is fairly extensive, as several years of fellowship are required after completing three years of internal medicine residency. Therefore, a minimum of six years of residency and fellowship after medical school is typical for cardiologists in training.


Dermatology is one of the most competitive fields for physicians. Typically, only the very top medical students are accepted into dermatology residency programs. Why the desire for dermatology? Because dermatologists are very well compensated (due to aesthetic and cash-pay elective procedures such as botox, lasering, and more). Plus, the quality of life is excellent, with little to no on-call time required, due to the nature of the work.

Endocrinologist (Sub-specialty of Internal Medicine)

Endocrinologist treat the endocrine system: the glands that produce and secrete hormones that control and regulate nearly all of the body's functions. Diabetics are often treated by an endocrinologist, as are patients with various thyroid issues.

Gastroenterologist (Sub-specialty of Internal Medicine)

Gastroenterologists treat the digestive system. This field attracts physicians who enjoy doing procedures, but who also enjoy seeing patients in an outpatient setting as well.

Infectious Disease (Sub-specialty of Internal Medicine)

Infectious disease physicians have been very busy lately, dealing with swine flu, bird flu, as well as HIV/AIDS, among other communicable diseases. Infectious disease physicians may practice some primary care internal medicine in addition to their infectious disease patients, depending on the needs of the community or employer.

Nephrologist (Sub-specialty of Internal Medicine)

Nephrologists study internal medicine and then sub-specialize in nephrology via additional 2-3 years of fellowship training. Nephrologists treat kidney disease,and prescribe dialysis for those experiencing kidney failure.


Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who treat diseases or disorders of the eyes and perform eye surgery. Vision correction that cannot be handled by an optometrist may be treated by an ophthalmologist.

Obstetrician/Gynecologist (OB/Gyn)

OB/Gyns provide women's healthcare including care of pregnant women and surgeries of the reproductive organs to repair abnormalities or remove cancers.


Otolaryngologists, also known as otorhinolaryngologists, are sometimes more commonly referred to as E.N.T.s, which stands for "ear, nose, and throat". Otolaryngology is another field that entails a combination of surgical skills and office-based medicine and treatment. ENTs cover a lot of issues from sinus problems, allergies, head and neck cancers, and more. Therefore, many physicians sub-specialize in a specific area of otolaryngology. However, the current demand is for more general otolaryngologists as opposed to sub-specialized ones.


You must really love kids to be a pediatrician. Pediatricians only care for younger patients, from infancy through age 18, or sometimes as high as age 21. Pediatricians provide primary health care to children including immunizations, well-baby checks and school physicals, and treatment of coughs and colds, among many other things. More seriously ill or complicated patients may be referred to a pediatric sub-specialist for more specialized treatment.

Pulmonologist (Sub-Specialty of Internal Medicine)

Pulmonologists treat the respiratory system, including the lungs. Pulmonologists often study critical care medicine in conjunction with pulmonary disease, and therefore they may serve as intensivists (covering the ICU) in a hospital, in addition to also seeing patients in an office setting to treat lung problems and diseases.


A psychiatrist treats the mental health and well-being of the patient. Psychiatrists may also be office-based, hospital-based, or a combination thereof. Most psychiatrists prefer to practice in an office setting. Some psychiatrists may focus on child and adolescent psychiatry, or on addiction medicine.

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