Physicians and surgeons diagnose illnesses and prescribe and administer treatment for people suffering from injury or disease. Physicians examine patients, obtain medical histories, and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive health care.
There are two types of physicians: M.D. "Doctor of Medicine" and D.O. "Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine"
. M.D.s also are known as allopathic physicians. While both M.D.s and D.O.s may use all accepted methods of treatment, including drugs and surgery, D.O.s place special emphasis on the body's musculoskeletal system, preventive medicine, and holistic patient care. D.O.s are most likely to be primary care specialists
although they can be found in all specialties. About half of D.O.s practice general or family medicine, general internal medicine, or general pediatrics.
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Physicians work in one or more of several specialties, including, but not limited to, anesthesiology, family and general medicine, general internal medicine, general pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology,
, and surgery.
Family and general practitioners
often provide the first point of contact for people seeking health care, by acting as the traditional family doctor. They assess and treat a wide range of conditions, from sinus and respiratory infections to broken bones. Family and general practitioners typically have a base of regular, long-term patients. These doctors refer patients with more serious conditions to specialists or other health care facilities for more intensive care.
General internists diagnose and provide nonsurgical treatment for a wide range of problems that affect internal organ systems, such as the stomach, kidneys, liver, and digestive tract. Internists use a variety of diagnostic techniques to treat patients through medication or hospitalization. Like general practitioners, general internists commonly act as primary care specialists. They treat patients referred from other specialists, and, in turn they refer patients to other specialists when more complex care is required.
care for the health of infants, children, teenagers, and young adults. They specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of ailments specific to young people and track patients' growth to adulthood. Like most physicians, pediatricians work with different health care workers, such as nurses and other physicians, to assess and treat children with various ailments.
Most of the work of pediatricians involves treating day-to-day illnesses, minor injuries, infectious diseases, and immunizations-that are common to children, much as a general practitioner treats adults. Some pediatricians specialize in pediatric surgery or serious medical conditions, such as autoimmune disorders or serious chronic ailments.
are the primary caregivers in the area of mental health. They assess and treat mental illnesses through a combination of
, hospitalization, and
. Psychotherapy involves regular discussions with patients in the case of Interpersonal Therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
endeavors to help a client develop more positive thought patterns, change thinking, or develop
, in an effort to overcome psychological disorders.
might help a client find solutions through changes in their behavioral patterns, the exploration of their past experiences, or group and family therapy sessions.
involves long-term psychotherapy and counseling for patients. In many cases, medications are administered by psychiatrists (not psychologists) to correct chemical imbalances that cause emotional problems. Psychiatrists also may administer
electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
to those of their patients who do not respond to, or who cannot take, medications.
Many physicians' primarily general and family practitioners, general internists, pediatricians, OB/GYNs, and psychiatrists - work in small private offices or clinics, often assisted by a small staff of nurses and other administrative personnel.
Increasingly, physicians are practicing in groups or health care organizations that provide backup coverage and allow for more time off. Physicians in a group practice or health care organization often work as part of a team that coordinates care for a number of patients; they are less independent than the solo practitioners of the past.
Surgeons and anesthesiologists usually work in well-lighted, sterile environments while performing surgery and often stand for long periods. Most work in hospitals or in surgical outpatient centers.
Many physicians and surgeons work long, irregular hours. Over one-third of full-time physicians and surgeons worked 60 hours or more a week in 2006.
Of the 633,000 physicians in the United States,
40.4% are primary care
12.3% of all doctors are family medicine and general practice.
7.5% are pediatricians
Primary Care Physician:
A primary care physician, or PCP
, is a physician/medical doctor who provides both the first contact for a person with an undiagnosed health concern as well as continuing care of varied medical conditions, not limited by cause, organ system, or diagnosis.
A PCP generally does not specialize in any medical specialty, such as neurology, cardiology, or pulmonology, nor perform surgery. The term "PCP" is most commonly used in the United States where it can be used to refer to two different types of health care providers. The acronym may be used to refer to either a primary care physician, who must hold a medical degree, or a primary care provider, who may be either a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, or an alternative medicine practitioner with no formal medical training. A primary care physician can be described by medical training, skill and scope of practice, role in the health care system, and the usual setting in which care is delivered. Primary care physicians are declining in numbers in many developed countries.
All physicians first complete medical school (MD, MBBS, or DO). To become primary care physicians, medical school graduates then undertake postgraduate training in primary care programs, such as family practice, general practice, pediatrics or internal medicine. Some HMOs consider gynecologists as PCPs for the care of women, and have allowed certain subspecialists to assume PCP responsibilities for selected patient types, such as allergists caring for people with asthma and nephrologists acting as PCPs for patients on kidney dialysis.
Scope of practice
A set of skills and scope of practice may define a primary care physician, generally including basic diagnosis and non-surgical treatment of common illnesses and medical conditions.  Diagnostic techniques include interviewing the patient to collect information on the present symptoms, prior medical history and other health details, followed by a physical examination.
Many PCPs are trained in basic medical testing, such as interpreting results of blood or other patient samples, electrocardiograms, or x-rays. More complex and time-intensive diagnostic procedures are usually obtained by referral to specialists, due to either special training with a technology, or increased experience and patient volume that renders a risky procedure safer for the patient.  After collecting data, the PCP arrives at a differential diagnosis and, with the participation of the patient, formulates a plan including (if appropriate) components of further testing, specialist referral, medication, therapy,
diet or life-style changes
, patient education, and follow up results of treatment. Primary care physicians also counsel and educate patients on safe health behaviors, self-care skills and treatment options, and provide screening tests and immunizations.
Role in the health care system
A primary care physician is usually the first medical practitioner contacted by a patient, due to factors such as ease of communication, accessible location, familiarity, and increasingly issues of cost and managed care requirements. In some countries, for example Norway, residents are registered as patients of a (local) doctor, and must contact that doctor for referral to any other. Also many health maintenance organizations position PCPs as "gatekeepers", who regulate access to more costly procedures or specialists.
Ideally, the primary care physician acts on behalf of the patient to collaborate with referral specialists, coordinate the care given by varied organizations such as hospitals or rehabilitation clinics, act as a comprehensive repository for the patients records, and provide long-term management of chronic conditions. Continuous care is particularly important for patients with medical conditions that encompass multiple organ systems and require prolonged treatment and monitoring, such as diabetes and hypertension.
Health care setting
PCPs provide the majority of services at the primary level of care, an entry point to a system that includes secondary care (by community hospitals) and tertiary care (by medical centers and teaching hospitals), also referred to an ambulatory care setting versus inpatient care. Many primary care physicians follow their patients in a variety of health care settings, such as offices, hospitals, critical care units, long-term facilities, and at home. A primary care physician may supervise a non-physician health professional (which may be a primary care provider), such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant.
Physicians role in mental health treatment Source:
U.S. Department of Labor Statistics
Pages Related to Mental Health Professionals
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Types
Mental Health Professionals
Appeal to Mental Health Professionals
for access to professional mental health treatment facilities with the option of non-pharmaceutical treatment