In today’s highly sophisticated medical environment, virtually all physicians specialize, and the level of specialization is constantly changing. In addition to primary care providers, other medical specialists include anesthesiologists, gynecologist/obstetricians, cardiologists, infectious disease specialists, radiologists, psychiatrists, and surgeons, as well as many others. Some specialty areas also have sub-specialties, requiring further years of training. For example, neurosurgery, pediatric gastroenterology, or geriatric psychiatry.
For students planning to enter medical school, the decision regarding specialization is one made after medical school is well underway. There are two options to consider for medical school: A degree from a school of medicine or a degree from an osteopathic school of medicine. There are many subtle differences, but the main different is Osteopathic Medicine places special emphasis on the body’s musculoskeletal system, preventive medicine and holistic care. Truly the only way for students to choose the best option for them is to research various schools to determine their specific curriculum and graduation outcomes. Many things should go into the decision, such as the availability of state-of-the-art facilities, credentials of the faculty, community support for the medical school, as well as availability of scholarship and grant programs.
The ultimate goal during medical school should be to learn about the multitude of primary care and specialty care opportunities in medicine. Medical school will provide the exposure students need to decide the best fit for them. There are also assessment tools and counseling options to help medical students select a specialty and apply to a residency program.
- Private or group practice
- Health organizations
- Urgent or express care centers
- Public health
Physicians may work in private or group practice clinic settings, as well as in hospitals and surgical outpatient centers. Their staff may consist of physician assistants, nurses, medical assistants, and office staff. Larger practices and clinics may have in-office radiology and lab services. Work schedule will depend on the type of practice and practice setting, but most physicians maintain an on-call service, or rotate on-call hours with other physicians in the practice. While on-call, a physician may deal with many patient concerns over the phone and make emergency visits to hospitals.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physicians and surgeons, all specialties, is expected to increase 22 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. Job growth will occur because of continued expansion of healthcare-related industries. The growing and aging population will drive overall growth in the demand for physician services, as consumers continue to demand high levels of care using the latest technologies, diagnostic tests, and therapies. In addition to job openings from employment growth, openings will result from the need to replace the relatively high number of physicians and surgeons expected to retire over the 2008-2018 decade. Job prospects should be particularly good for physicians willing to practice in rural and low-income areas, and for physicians in specialties that afflict the rapidly growing elderly populations.
- Ability to learn complex science, math, and methods and techniques of medicine
- Strong verbal skills
- Good space and form perception, manual dexterity, and general coordination
- Ability to plan, organize, and direct others
- Ability to relate to all kinds of people
- Ability to make decisions based on data, observation, and experience
- Scientific curiosity, emotional maturity, and empathy
To be admitted to medical school, a person must complete 3-4 years of pre-medicine subjects, take a preadmissions test called the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), and have a high grade-point average. Medical school is typically 4 years in length, after which physicians must complete residency training. The length of the residency depends on the chosen speciality, but generally range from 3 – 7 years. Beyond residency, a physician may choose to continue their education in specialized programs called fellowships.
Undergraduate premedical students must complete coursework in physicals, biology, mathematics, English and inorganic and organic chemistry.
In medical school, the first two years include laboratory experience and coursework in anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, pathology, medical ethics, and law governing medicine. They also learn to take medical histories, examine patients and diagnose illnesses. During the last two years of medical school, students work with patients under the supervision of experienced physicians in hospitals and clinics. They gain experience in the diagnosis and treatment of illness through rotations in internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry and surgery.
To practice, physicians must be licensed. Licensure requires graduation from an accredited college of medicine, completion of at least 3 years of residency, and passing the national board exam – the United States Medicine Licensing Examination.
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Career information adapted in part from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handook, 2010-2011 Edition, Physicians and Surgeons, on the Internet at www.bls.gov