Medical doctors may be doctors of medicine or doctors of osteopathy, and the field of medicine includes a wide variety of specialties and subspecialties for both types of doctors. By 2012, the American Board of Medical Specialties listed 36 major specialties and a number of subspecialties under several of them.
Surgeons and Anesthesiologists
Surgeons include the specialties of cardiac surgery, vascular surgery, orthopedics and neurosurgery. In some cases, there is crossover among specialties. An orthopedic surgeon may perform spinal surgery and a cardiac surgeon may perform some types of vascular surgery. Surgeons may specialize in adult or pediatric medicine -- or perform both. Although anesthesiologists don't perform surgery, their role in administering anesthesia is integral to the operative process.
Physicians who manage chronic disease and other non-surgical conditions include three large groups: pediatricians, internists, and family practice doctors, or general practitioners. Pediatricians focus on the care of children and adolescents; internists usually treat internal diseases of adults; and the general practitioner treats all age groups. The general practitioner may cross over into other specialties; some GPs perform minor surgery, deliver babies and set broken bones. Internist subspecialties include oncology, infectious disease, gastroenterology and sports medicine.
The Brain and Nervous System
Psychiatrists and neurologists specialize in diseases and conditions of the brain and nervous system. Psychiatrists treat mental health problems and manage diseases and conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety. Neurologists are concerned with the function of the brain and nervous system; they manage such conditions as epilepsy or multiple sclerosis.
In addition to interpreting radiological studies such as X-rays and mammograms, radiologists may perform interventional radiology, procedures that use radioactive dyes and X-ray machines to remove tumors, insert medical devices or open blocked arteries. Pathologists work in laboratories with samples of body tissue or blood, peering through microscopes to identify cancer cells or disease-causing organisms. Pathologists may also perform autopsies to determine causes of death. Physicians who specialize in nuclear medicine use radioactive isotopes that show pictures of the body parts to aid in diagnosis.
Doctors Without Patients
Medical doctors do not necessarily practice clinical medicine – in other words, they don’t necessarily take care of patients. Some medical doctors are strictly researchers in fields such as genetics, aerospace medicine or undersea medicine. Others may work in occupational, industrial or public health. Some doctors work as reviewers for insurance companies or in government jobs. Physicians in these fields may have started out in any number of specialties, and the work they do may not be related to their original training.
2016 Salary Information for Physicians and Surgeons
Physicians and surgeons earned a median annual salary of $204,950 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicians and surgeons earned a 25th percentile salary of $131,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $261,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 713,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physicians and surgeons.
- American Board of Medical Specialties: Specialties and Subspecialties
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- HealthCareJobs 411
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2011 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Physicians and Surgeons
- Career Trend: Physicians and Surgeons
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.