Health & Fitness

Decoding Doctors: Physician Types and Specialties


Doctors play a vital role in our well being and quality of life. They are professionals we hope to not see, but when we need them we’re forever grateful they’re around. 

Working with a doctor takes a great level of trust. The first step to choosing a new doctor is knowing what type of doctor is best suited to address your specific medical needs. Some conditions may even require the expertise of a doctor that is specialized in their particular practice.

With so many types of doctors available today, it can be difficult to know which one you need, especially if you only have a list of covered network doctors to choose from. Use the list below as a reference guide as you search for a new physician:

General Practitioner

General practitioner is a bit of an ambiguous term. It means that the doctor provides primary health care for people of all ages. These type of doctor doesn’t have a specialty. They can do general diagnosis and routine care. If a condition requires a specialist the general practitioner can make a referral, which is needed with HMO healthcare plans. 


Anyone who suffers from arthritis will need to see a reumatologist. This type of doctor specializes in musculoskeletal disorders as well as autoimmune conditions that affect the muscles, joints and bones.


Over the course of a lifetime, 1 in 3 people will develop cancer. It’s a diagnosis no one ever wants to hear, and the news will likely come from an oncologist. These physicians provide cancer treatment, but often they are highly specialized. You’ll commonly find oncologists that specialize in one type of cancer or a group of related cancers. 


All heart-related conditions are referred to a cardiologist. Cardiologists diagnose and treat heart conditions. They also specialize in circulatory system disorders. Because heart disease is so prevalent, some people choose to visit a cardiologist simply to check on their heart health and better understand their risk factors.


A gynecologist only works within the female reproductive system. Often they are a woman’s primary care physician that provides annual checkups and a basic physical. A gynecologist is also consulted if a woman is experiencing infertility or contracts a sexually transmitted disease. As a woman ages, she will see a gynecologist for routine pap smears and mammograms in order to detect cancer. 


Gynecologists and obstetricians are often confused for good reason. Many doctors are OB/GYNs, which means they are both gynecologists and obstetricians. However, there is a distinct difference between the two practices. An obstetrician specializes in reproduction, pregnancy, and childbirth. 


Skin conditions are treated by a dermatologist. The conditions can range from acne to skin cancer. They also provide a number of cosmetic treatments such as chemical peels, Botox injections, and dermal filler injections. 


A podiatrist is a physician that diagnoses and treatments medical conditions found in the feet, ankles and lower extremities. This type of doctor can be a physician, surgeon or both. 


When a person needs to be sedated for surgery (general anesthesia) or a specific region of the body needs to be numbed for treatment (regional anesthesia) they will depend on the expertise of an anesthesiologist. Often an anesthesiologist will work within a specialized field such as pediatrics or cardiac anesthesia. 


Immunologists, also known as allergists, help in identifying allergies and treating the symptoms. They also treat other immune system diseases and asthma. 


Pediatricians solely care for children. They can be a general practitioner or a specialist. Some pediatricians specialize in adolescent medicine meaning that they treat teenagers rather than young children.


Those who require the use of contact lenses or glasses regularly see an ophthalmologist. This type of doctor specializes in caring for the eyes and helping to correct impaired vision.


Urologists have two areas of focus: treating conditions within the urinary system and within the male reproductive system. They perform a wide range of services from surgery to prescribing medications for erectile dysfunction. 


Injuries and conditions of the brain, spine and nervous system are treated by neurologists. They are highly specialized physicians that use testing such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and CT scans to determine if there are medical conditions and the best way to address them. 

Dorothy Latch

The author Dorothy Latch