You’re probably familiar with the term “primary care doctor,” “primary care physician,” or “general practitioner” in relation to going to the doctor, but you may not know exactly what role this type of doctor plays in your health. It’s not as obvious as it used to be, because nowadays there are many types of doctors that deal with specificities ranging from organs to age groups to gender and more. Back in the day, a family would have a “family doctor” that dealt with everybody and everything, but now, it’s more common to see specialized doctors for focused treatment more than your standard one-size-fits-all doctor. Let’s break this down and look at the types of doctors you might meet.
The First Doctor You’ll Meet
Going to the doctor starts with a primary care physician/doctor or general practitioner, the doctor most qualified to deal with all ages and genders, who is trained in a wide variety of medical subjects. They’re the person who answers questions about your health, performs your annual check-ups, and keeps your medical history all in one place. This is the type of doctor that can treat your everyday needs and will be the number one person you feel comfortable sharing concerns or asking questions of, rather than seeing a new, unfamiliar doctor each time you need a check-up or advice. We’ll just refer to this type of doctor as a general practitioner to keep things easy to follow.
Perhaps most importantly, however, your general practitioner can help guide you to other types of doctors, the most qualified and suitable specialist for your specific treatment—should you need one, of course.
So Many Types of Doctors
There are so many types of doctors that it’d make your head spin to see their medical textbook-laden bookshelves lined up end to end! That’s because different types of medical practices require specific schooling, fellowships, and residencies. Because it would be literally impossible for a single doctor to know everything that every specialist would know, you will get a referral from your general practitioner that’ll help you to understand which type of doctor will help you with your specific medical needs.
The process to become a fully trained physician is long and (for most) arduous: It starts with four years of college followed by four years of medical school. But that’s not it! Towards the end of their medical school education, a student will choose their preferred specialty, so they can get the residency training needed to master their craft. Once decided, they’ll enter a residency program and be supervised by a fully-trained physician for three to five years, mostly within a hospital setting. Then, and only then, can somebody call themselves a practicing medical professional.
The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) recognizes 24 distinct medical specialties. These constitute the types of doctors you’ll encounter, depending on your medical needs. Even with these 24 categories, additional training is often utilized to further specialize and master the art and science of modern medicine.
Some of the Most Common Types of Doctors
Without going too deep into the possibilities, here’s a quick guide to a handful of the specialty doctors you’re most likely to meet along your life’s journey. With a little luck, hopefully you won’t meet any of them—but when you need a doctor by your side, it’s always best to know at least a little bit about what you’re getting yourself into so you can understand how they’re best able to help you.
These doctors help with problems that affect your feet or lower legs, including things like ankle pains, bunions, or chronic foot pains.
Some types of doctors study sleep-related issues and topics, including sleeping disorders like sleep apnea or circadian rhythm disorder, sleep-related medicines, and what goes on when we dream (specifically called Oneirology).
These are the types of doctors that manage children’s health, physical behavior, and mental health issues. All things involving kids and doctors will involve a pediatrician who is trained in everything from minor health problems to serious diseases.
This is a physician who specializes in the respiratory system. From the windpipe to the lungs, a pulmonologist studies issues from snoring to the smoker’s cough and everything in-between.
Experts on hormones and metabolism who treat conditions like thyroid problems, diabetes, and bone disorders.
One of the types of doctors that study the anatomy, functions, and organic disorders of nerves and the nervous system, including spinal cord issues or cerebrovascular issues like strokes.
A practitioner of the branch of medicine that studies, prevents, and diagnoses rheumatic diseases, autoimmune conditions, and joint problems.
A lot of sleep physicians come from the field of psychiatry. For example Dr. James MacFarlane, medical advisor to Smart Nora. This type of doctor is devoted to the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental disorders, ranging from mood to behavior, cognition to perception.
Gynecologist or OB/GYN
An OB/GYN (obstetrician-gynecologist) specializes in female reproductive health. They work in anything from menstrual care and STIs to pregnancy and baby delivery.
Someone specially trained in surgery, able to operate or otherwise physically alter/change body tissues—whether that means saving a life or removing your wrinkles.
A practitioner of the branch of medicine that diagnoses, prevents, and treats cancer and other tumorous growths.
A subspecialist within surgery that focuses on medicine that deals with the surgical and medical management of neck and head conditions, including snoring.
This type of doctor helps you with problems that affect your skin, hair, and nails, from allergies to moles and scars.
Also referred to as a heart doctor, cardiologists help you if you have high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, untreated sleep apnea, or if you’ve suffered from cardiac failure.
It’s Important to Have All These Types of Doctors!
There’s a primer! From your general practitioner all the way down to the most minute, specific issues, there’s a doctor for everything—and just as well! The amount of training and skill that it takes to be a doctor really dictates that the field be separated into specialties. Thank goodness it’s common now to have a doctor for each problem than a single doctor trying to remember every single bit of information from thousands of textbooks! Finding the correct type of doctors for focused treatment is easy—whether you’re simply waking up tired, need serious treatment, or worried that something isn't normal normal, ask a general practitioner and they’ll point you in the right direction!