Medical doctors, or physicians, are highly trained healthcare professionals who perform medical examinations, diagnose illnesses, prescribe drugs, and treat patients suffering from injury or disease using a variety of techniques.
Physicians serve in all types of communities, from rural to inner city, and in a wide variety of settings, from private practice to clinics and hospitals. They also work in specialized settings, such as homeless shelters, schools, sports programs, prisons, nursing homes, third-world countries, and the armed forces. About one-third of the nation’s physicians are generalists, or “primary care” doctors, although that percentage is declining as more physicians choose to become specialists. Generalists include fields such as internists, family physicians, and pediatricians. Specialists focus on a particular system or part of the body; examples include neurologists, hematologists, cardiologists, and podiatrists, to name only a few.
Physicians also serve in research, studying and developing new treatments for disease, in academia, sharing their skills by educating medical students, in health organizations, pharmaceutical companies, medical technology manufacturing, health insurance companies, and in corporations with health and safety programs.
There are five primary fields in medicine: Allopathic, Chiropractic, Naturopathic, Osteopathic, and Podiatric, all of which diagnose and treat disease.
- Allopathic physicians (MDs, or Doctors of Medicine) focus on diagnosing and treating disease; treatments include prescription medication and surgery. Allopathic medicine offers both primary care and a large number of specializations, but many MDs specialize.
- Chiropractic physicians (DCs, or Doctors of Chiropractic) focus on the promotion of health through the alignment of the musculoskeletal structure. DCs do not use invasive procedures such as surgery.
- Naturopathic physicians (NDs, or Doctors of Naturopathic Medicine) focus on maintaining physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness through lifestyle choices and natural remedies such as acupuncture, reflexology, and homeopathy. NDs do not use invasive procedures such as surgery.
- Osteopathic physicians (DOs, or Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine) focus on diagnosing and treating disease with an emphasis on primary care, holistic evaluation, and the prevention of diseases. DOs can specialize but many work in primary care. DOs receive training in the manipulation of the musculoskeletal structure, also known as osteopathic manipulative medicine, or OMM, in addition to the core medical training. The scope of practice for MDs and DOs is very similar.
- Podiatric physicians (DPMs, or Doctors of Podiatric Medicine) focus on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases concerning the foot and ankle. Podiatric medicine is an early specialization of allopathic medicine and includes the prescription of medications and surgery.