When a person has a medical concern, they may turn to a doctor for help. There are many types of doctor, and a person’s specific concern will usually determine the type of doctor they choose.
There are many types of doctors, but there are two main categories: primary care or specialty care. Within these two groups, doctors vary widely in their specialty area and level of training.
This article looks at the different types of doctor, their roles, the conditions they treat, and the procedures they can perform.
A primary care physician is someone who:
- treats minor illnesses
- answers health questions
- conducts health checkups
- performs routine health tests, including those for cholesterol or blood sugar levels
- provides referrals to specialty physicians when necessary
- keeps a person’s medical records together
A primary care doctor may be one of the following types:
Family practice physician
Family practice physicians are also called family medicine doctors. They treat people of all ages.
Internal medicine physician
An internal medicine physician performs many of the same tasks as a family practice physician. However, internal medicine physicians treat adults only.
Family medicine vs. internal medicine physicians
Although family medicine and internal medicine physicians can both treat adults, the American College of Physicians say that there are some key differences.
For example, internal medicine doctors have training in both general medicine and subspecialties. They also tend to be more focused on medical issues that affect adults.
Family physicians, meanwhile, have broader training in medicine that allows them to care for both children and adults. They can treat a wide range of medical issues and emphasize disease prevention and health maintenance.
Pediatricians focus on treating children from birth to young adulthood. They may be a child’s primary care physician and have training in:
- well-baby and well-child visits
- school or sports physicals
- childhood vaccines
- disease prevention for children and babies
- treating illnesses and injuries in children and babies
Geriatric medicine doctors
Geriatric medicine doctors, also called geriatricians, focus on care for older adults.
According to the
- the aging process
- preventive care for older adults
- the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and conditions that affect older adults
Specialty doctors have training in a specific area of medicine. This allows them to treat complex health problems that primary care doctors may not be able to.
Specialty doctors include the following types:
An allergist or immunologist focuses on preventing and treating allergic diseases and conditions. These usually include various types of allergies and asthma.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology explain that allergists must complete additional years of study in the field of allergy and immunology after earning a medical degree.
Allergists also require training in internal medicine or pediatrics.
Dermatologists focus on diseases and conditions of the skin, nails, and hair. They treat conditions such as eczema, skin cancer, acne, and psoriasis.
Dermatologists can perform some in-office procedures, including mole or spot removal. Some also offer aesthetic procedures, such as chemical peels, Botox injections, and dermal fillers.
Infectious disease doctors
Infectious disease doctors specialize in diseases and conditions that are contagious. These may include:
- bacterial infections, including Clostridium difficile, a bacterium that causes diarrhea and stomach issues
- infections after surgery or hospital care
- parasite infections
Infectious disease doctors also require training in internal medicine or pediatrics.
Ophthalmologists specialize in eye and vision care. They treat diseases and conditions of the eyes and can perform eye surgery.
Ophthalmologists treat people with complex eye conditions and may also see people for routine eye care, including prescribing glasses and performing checkups.
Obstetrician/gynecologists (OB/GYNs) provide preventive care and disease management for female health conditions. These include:
- female reproductive health
- cancer prevention and diagnosis in the female reproductive organs
- breast care
- labor and delivery
Many women will see an OB/GYN regularly throughout pregnancy and for labor and delivery. They may also visit them for yearly checkups and tests, such as breast exams and Pap tests.
Cardiologists focus on the cardiovascular system, which includes the heart and blood vessels. They treat many cardiovascular conditions, such as:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- heart attack and stroke
- heart rhythm problems
- congestive heart failure
Cardiologists can perform many tests and procedures. However, they do not perform heart surgery.
Cardiologists also require training in internal medicine or pediatrics.
Endocrinologists treat disorders and conditions that affect the endocrine system. This system involves various glands that make and release hormones in the body.
Endocrinologists treat hormone-related conditions such as:
- thyroid conditions
- hormone imbalances
- growth problems in children
- adrenal gland conditions
Endocrinologists also require training in internal medicine or pediatrics.
Gastroenterologists focus on the digestive system. This includes the esophagus, pancreas, stomach, liver, small intestine, colon, and gallbladder.
Gastroenterologists also perform procedures such as endoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopy.
Gastroenterologists also require training in internal medicine or pediatrics.
A nephrologist focuses on kidney care and conditions that affect the kidneys. Conditions they can treat include:
- kidney disease
- renal (kidney) failure
- kidney stones
Nephrologists also have education in kidney transplants and dialysis.
They also require training in internal medicine or pediatrics.
Urologists treat conditions of the urinary tract in both males and females. They also focus on male reproductive health.
Some urologists focus on a specific area within urology, such as female urology or male infertility.
Pulmonologists focus on the organs involved with breathing. These include the lungs and heart.
Pulmonologists may work in hospitals to provide ventilation or life support. They also see people in the office to treat breathing disorders, lung conditions, and allergies.
Pulmonologists also require training in internal medicine or pediatrics.
Otolaryngologists are sometimes known as “ear, nose, and throat” (ENT) doctors.
An ENT doctor may treat problems with the sinuses, throat, tonsils, ears, mouth, head, and neck. Some ENT doctors undergo additional training to focus on one specific area, such as pediatrics or rhinology, which refers to the nose and sinuses.
A neurologist treats conditions of the nerves, spine, and brain. People may see a neurologist for:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- multiple sclerosis
A psychiatrist is a doctor who treats mental health conditions. They may use counseling, medication, or hospitalization as part of their treatment.
Some psychiatrists have a subspecialty in a specific area, such as adolescent mental health or addiction medicine.
Oncologists treat cancer and its symptoms. During treatment for cancer, a person may have several types of healthcare professional in their care team.
According to the
- certain types of cancer
- specific cancer treatments
- certain areas of the body
- cancer-related health problems
- care coordination
Oncologists also require training in internal medicine or pediatrics.
A radiologist specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions using medical imaging tests. They may read and interpret scans such as X-rays, MRIs, mammograms, ultrasound, and CT scans.
They may be one of three types:
- Diagnostic radiologists: These doctors use imaging procedures to look for health problems. They can also interpret images on tests and provide information to a person’s doctor about the results.
- Interventional radiologists: These doctors use imaging, including X-rays and MRI scans, paired with medical procedures. They may help treat conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
- Radiation oncologists: These doctors prescribe cancer treatment using radiation therapy.
A rheumatologist diagnoses and treats rheumatic diseases. These are autoimmune conditions that can affect the bones, joints, and muscles.
Some common rheumatic diseases include:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- psoriatic arthritis
Rheumatologists also require training in internal medicine or pediatrics.
General surgeons perform surgical procedures on many organs and bodily systems. They may have training in diseases of the:
- endocrine system
- gastrointestinal system
A general surgeon also cares for a person both before and after their surgery.
An orthopedic surgeon specializes in diseases and conditions of the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. They may treat:
- sports injuries
- bone tumors
- back pain
- broken bones
- repetitive strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow
Cardiac surgeons perform heart surgery and may work with a cardiologist to determine what a person needs.
Cardiac surgeons perform procedures including heart bypass surgery and placing stents in the heart.
Anesthesiologists focus on a person’s well-being before, during, and after surgery. This may include administering pain medicine, relaxation medication, or medicine to put a person to sleep.
Anesthesiologists monitor people during surgery to ensure that their body’s vital signs are stable. They may also work with the person after surgery to make sure that their pain is under control.
Each type of doctor undergoes their own unique training and education to allow them to diagnose and treat specific diseases and conditions.
Because there are so many types of doctors, most people see a primary care physician for health problems first. This doctor may then refer or recommend the person to see a specialist when they need one.