The Most Common Physician Specialties

There are approximately one million physicians practicing in the United States, and many different specialties and types of physician jobs. Physicians attend a four-year accredited medical school after completing college and then must go on to complete residency training, which takes between three and seven years, depending on the specialty.

Family Physician

Family medicine is one of the primary care specialties. Family practice physicians see patients of all ages, provide basic care for a variety of common ailments, are usually the first to recognize major health problems, and may order diagnostic tests or refer to a specialist.

Internal Medicine Physician

General internists provide primary care to adult patients and can take additional training after internal medicine residency to sub-specialize in a variety of other areas, such as gastroenterology, endocrinology, or cardiology.

Internists usually have more hospital-based training than family practitioners and may have an office-based practice or work as hospitalists, primarily seeing patients in the hospital.


Pediatricians take care of younger patients, from infancy through age 18 or, in some cases, age 21.

Pediatricians provide primary health care to children, including immunizations, well-baby checks, school physicals, and treatment of coughs, colds, and stomach flu, among many other things. More seriously ill or complicated patients may be referred to a pediatric sub-specialist for specialized treatment.

Obstetrician/Gynecologist (OB/GYN)

An OB/GYN is a doctor who specializes in women's health, including reproductive health. These doctors provide women with preventive care, manage pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and diagnose and treat diseases of the reproductive organs. They also specialize in women’s health issues like menopause, hormone problems, contraception, and infertility.


Surgeons can be trained in general surgery or in more specialized areas of surgery, such as hand surgery, pediatric surgery, surgical oncology, or vascular surgery. Surgeons spend time planning a surgical procedure, operating in the operating room, and then following up postoperatively to identify complications and to confirm that the procedure was a success.

The training to become a surgeon is typically several years longer than training for primary care.


A psychiatrist specializes in mental health and treats emotional and behavioral problems through a combination of personal counseling (psychotherapy), psychoanalysis, hospitalization, and medication. Psychiatrists may be office-based, hospital-based, or a combination of the two.

There are a number of different specialty areas within psychiatry. For instance, some psychiatrists may focus on child and adolescent psychiatry, addiction medicine, or on treating older people.


Cardiology is one of many sub-specialties of internal medicine. Cardiologists focus on treatment of the heart and its blood vessels.

Training to become a cardiologist is fairly extensive, as several years of fellowship are required after completing three years of internal medicine residency.


Dermatology is one of the most competitive fields for physicians. Typically, only the very top medical students are accepted into dermatology residency programs. This is because dermatologists are very well compensated due to aesthetic and cash-pay elective procedures such as Botox, laser treatments, and more. Plus, the quality of life is excellent compared to peers in medicine, with little to no on-call time required due to the nature of the work.


A sub-specialty of internal medicine, endocrinologists treat the endocrine system—the glands that produce and secrete hormones that control and regulate nearly all of the body's functions. People with diabetes or thyroid disease are often treated by an endocrinologist.


A sub-specialty of internal medicine, gastroenterologists treat the digestive system. This field attracts physicians who enjoy doing procedures, but who also like seeing patients in an outpatient setting as well.

Infectious Disease Physician

Infectious disease physicians deal with infections that are hard to diagnose or treat. A sub-specialty of internal medicine, infectious disease physicians treat serious infections such as swine flu, bird flu, and HIV/AIDS, among other communicable diseases.


Nephrologists treat kidney disease and prescribe dialysis for those experiencing kidney failure. These physicians train in internal medicine and then sub-specialize in nephrology, which requires an additional two to three years of fellowship training.


Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who treat diseases or disorders of the eyes, such as cataracts and glaucoma. They perform eye surgery when necessary. Vision correction that cannot be handled by an optometrist may be treated by an ophthalmologist.


Otolaryngologists, also known as otorhinolaryngologists, are more commonly referred to as ENTs, 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 including sinus problems, allergies, head and neck cancers, and more. As a result, many physicians sub-specialize in a specific area of otolaryngology.


Pulmonologists treat the cardio-pulmonary system, which consists of the organs, including the lungs and heart, that work together to help a person breathe. They often train in critical care medicine in conjunction with pulmonary disease. As a result, they may work as intensivists (physicians who cover the intensive care unit) in addition to seeing patients in an office setting to treat breathing disorders, severe allergies, lung problems, and other diseases.


Neurologists are doctors who take care of patients with medical conditions that affect the brain, spine, or nerves. Neurologists see patients who have complex medical disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and neuropathy. They also take care of patients who have common problems such as migraine headaches and dizziness.

Physician Executive

Some physicians do not practice medicine, instead, taking leading roles in healthcare policy, pharmaceutical research, or in health insurance companies. Non-clinical doctors generally are required to have completed medical school and residency, as well as to maintain a medical license.


A radiologist is a physician who is trained in looking at and interpreting diagnostic tests. Often, the treating physician must look at the test as well, but the radiologist's interpretation and report can offer additional information or advice for further testing.


Anesthesiologists are trained to manage patient pain and vital signs during surgery. They also often manage medical emergencies in the hospital, such as cardiac arrest and sudden breathing problems.


Oncology is a subspecialty of internal medicine. Oncologists take care of patients who have cancer by treating the cancer itself, as well as the symptoms caused by the disease. Often, oncologists take part in clinical trials, using new and experimental treatments for cancers that are otherwise incurable.

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  4. About the American Academy of Pediatrics

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  10.  American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. About EmPower

  11. American College of Gastroenterology. What is a Gastroenterologist?

  12. Infectious Diseases Society of America. What is an ID Specialist

  13. American Society of Nephrology. ASN: Leading the Fight Against Kidney Diseases

  14. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is an Ophthalmologist?

  15. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. About Otolaryngology

  16. American Lung Association. Know Your Providers: What Does a Pulmonologist Do?

  17. American Academy of Neurology. Brain&Life. Neurology Frequently Asked Questions

  18. American Association for Physician Leadership. About Us

  19. American College of Radiology. Who Are ACR Members?

  20. American Society of Anesthesiologists. The Anesthesia Care Team

  21. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Clinical trials

Additional Reading
  • Federation of State Medical Boards. A Census of Actively Licensed Physicians in the United States, 2016.