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 their chosen specialty.

5 common physician specialties

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

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 you to a specialist.

Internal Medicine Physician

General internists provide primary care to adult patients and can pursue 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)

A gynecologist is a doctor who specializes in women's health, which includes reproductive health, menopause, and hormone problems. An obstetrician provides care for women that are pregnant and are trained to deliver babies. Often, these specialities are combined, in which case the physician is referred to as an OB/GYN.


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, performing surgery 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 eating disorders.


Cardiology is one of the many sub-specialties of internal medicine. Cardiologists focus on treatment of the heart and its blood vessels, which can include the management of heart failure, cardiovascular disease, and post-operative care.

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 a very competitive field 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 functions and diseases of the digestive system. This field attracts physicians who enjoy doing procedures, but who also like seeing patients in an outpatient setting.

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 the 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 that work together to help a person breathe, such as the lungs and heart. Their training is often 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 respiratory 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 health care policy, pharmaceutical research, or 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 which has three main areas: medical, surgical, or radiation oncology. 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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Article Sources
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