Medical school is intense, and it prepares you for a variety of careers. Students enter medical school with different strengths and weaknesses, personality types, and interests.
And after the training in medical school, there are many medical and surgical specialties to choose from. This particular post covers the specialties of medicine.
Another post on this blog has already discussed the different specialties in surgery.
What Is A Medical Specialty?
A medical specialty is defined as a branch of medical practice that is concerned with a group of patients with specific illnesses affecting the internal organs and body tissues, diseases, and has specific skills and philosophy.
Who Is A Physician Or Medical Specialist?
Medical specialists, Medical Consultants, or Physicians are doctors who have received additional training in a specific area of medicine. They are often the most qualified to diagnose and treat many complicated illnesses because they have significantly more knowledge in that field.
A medical specialist is also called an Internal Medicine Physician.
Medical specialists are also essential because their expertise is needed for patients with rare diseases and conditions.
Hospitals usually employ medical consultants to fill certain gaps in medical practice. For instance, some hospitals might employ a Dermatologist to review special cases of skin infections especially those with intractable causes.
Is Physician A Doctor?
It is not uncommon among medical students and non-medically inclined persons to be confused as to whether it is right to address a medical professional as a Physician or Doctor.
The simple answer is Yes, a Physician is a Doctor.
In ancient times, Doctors were formerly known as Physicians (A term used to describe someone who is an expert in things relating to nature). This is because doctors then had a broader knowledge about life, philosophy, and science, and not just the curing of infirmities. So there is no difference between what Physicians do and what Doctors do.
What is a Medical Residency Program
A medical residency is a post-graduate medical education program for doctors who have successfully completed their medical school training and have earned a Bachelor in Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) or Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor in Osteopathic Medicine (DO).
The medical residency program is one which a doctor completes becoming a medical specialist in a given field of medicine.
A Resident Doctor is a term used to describe a doctor currently undergoing a residency program.
Becoming a medical specialist is a long and difficult process. The different specialties of medicine also determine the intensity and length of your training.
For instance, a general practitioner takes a minimum of about 3 to 4 years to complete the residency program after 4 to 6 years of medical school (depending on how long medical school is in your country). Medical schools in Nigeria take a minimum of 6 years to complete.
On the other hand, a medical specialty like Radiology takes a minimum of 5 years to complete the residency program after medical school.
This article gives a birds-eye view and some information on what it takes to become a medical specialist with a description of all the medical specialties, what each of the medical specialists does, and some of the subspecialties under them.
How Many Specialties Are There In Medicine? (Internal Medicine Subspecialties)
All over the world, there are over 135 specialties and subspecialties in medicine. The number keeps increasing as humans keep evolving with the discovery of certain aspects of human life.
List Of Different Specialties in Medicine and Internal Medicine Subspecialties
- Family Medicine / General Practice
- Nephrology and Renal Medicine
- Pulmonology and Respiratory Medicine
- Infectious Diseases Medicine
- Emergency and Interventional Medicine (Accident and Emergency Medicine)
- Radiology and Interventional medicine
- Morbid Pathology
- Medical Microbiology
- Chemical Pathology
- Public Health
Family Medicine / General Practice
Family medicine is one of the specialties of medicine concerned with providing holistic care for individuals.
Family medicine is defined as a primary care medical specialty that provides continuing and comprehensive health care for the individual and family across all ages, genders, diseases, and parts of the body.
A doctor who has completed his/her residency training in this medical specialty is called a Family Physician.
In the U.K, these medical specialists are also called General Practitioners. And they serve as a direct link between patients and other medical specialists. They also do the function of an advocate and educator for individuals in a family setting.
Family Medicine Physicians are usually the first point of contact for patients before they are referred to a specific specialty to manage their disease.
Functions Of A Family Medicine Physician Include;
- Delivering a wide range of acute and chronic preventive medical services
- Diagnosis and treatment of common illnesses that plague the society
- Preventive care like;
- Routine checkups
- Health risk assessments
- Immunization and screening tests
- Personalize Counselling on healthy lifestyle maintenance
Cardiology is one of the specialties of medicine that deals with the disorders of the heart, the blood vessels, and other parts of the circulatory system.
Medical specialists in this field of medicine concern themselves with the management of significant diseases like;
- Stroke Cerebrovascular accidents
- Congenital heart defects etc.
Internal Medicine Subspecialties Under Cardiology Include;
- Adult cardiology
- Cardiac electrophysiology
- Interventional Cardiology
- Preventive Cardiology and Cardiac Rehabilitation
- Pediatric Cardiology
Nephrology and Renal Medicine
Nephrology is of the specialties in medicine that is concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management of diseases of the kidney using diet and medication up to dialysis and renal transplantation.
Common illnesses managed by this internal medicine subspecialty include; acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease, polycystic kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome, nephritic syndrome, hypertension, electrolyte imbalance, kidney stones, and many others.
Medical specialists in the field of Neurology are concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management of diseases affecting the central and peripheral nervous system. This involves the brain, the spinal cord, the peripheral nerves, their coverings, blood vessels, and surrounding tissues.
Common diseases which a neurologist can manage or co-manage include;
- Stroke and Cerebrovascular accidents
- Parkinson’s disease
- Muscular dystrophies
- Some personality disorders
Pulmonology and Respiratory Medicine
Pulmonology also called Pneumology or Respiratory Medicine is a medical specialty that is concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, and management of diseases of the respiratory tract and the lungs.
A Pulmonologist can manage illnesses like asthma, lung cancer, tuberculosis, occupational lung diseases, and other diseases of the respiratory system.
Infectious Diseases Medicine
Medical specialists under the Infectious diseases unit are on the front line of managing global pandemics and disease outbreaks like the Coronavirus, Lassa Fever, Ebola virus, Influenza, Yellow fever, etc.
They may also work in private practice or in teaching hospitals where they review and treat all cases of infectious diseases like Human Immunodeficiency Virus, Hepatitis, and any other communicable diseases caused by micro-organisms.
These physicians are also found in public health sectors where they help public health physicians in the management of such epidemics.
Emergency Medicine (Accident and Emergency Medicine)
Emergency Medicine is a specialty of medicine that deals with the care of illnesses requiring urgent medical attention.
They are usually the first point of contact for accident victims and mostly provide care in an unscheduled setting.
These medical specialists acquire both medical and basic surgical skills that is very helpful in saving lives in an emergency situation. They manage conditions such as burns, trauma, insect bites, snake bites and attacks by wild animals, sports injuries, poisoning, specific medical emergencies like stroke and diabetic ketoacidosis.
Paediatrics also spelled as Pediatrics is a branch of medicine that deals with the care of newborn babies, infants, school children, and adolescents.
Pediatrics has so many branches and subspecialties under it that are in direct relationship with other internal subspecialties. But this time, the focus is on children, not adults.
Subspecialties in Pediatrics Include;
- Pediatric Cardiology
- Critical Care/ Emergency Pediatrics
- Pediatrics Oncology
- Infectious diseases
- Pediatric Neurology
- Pediatric Nephrology
- Adolescent Medicine
- Addiction Medicine
- Child Abuse Pediatrics and Social Pediatrics
- Genetics and Metabolism
- Headache medicine
- Hospital medicine
- Pain and Palliative Medicine
- Pediatric allergy and immunology
- Pediatric Endocrinology
- Pediatric Gastroenterology
- Pediatric Pulmonology
- Pediatric Rheumatology
- Sports Medicine
- Primary care.
Endocrinology is one of the specialties of medicine that deals with the diagnoses and management of diseases of the endocrine system. The endocrine system is a collection of tissues and organs in the body that is involved in the production and secretion of hormones.
These hormones play crucial roles in the development of the human sexual reproductive functions, mood, metabolism, growth and development, respiration, and regulates every activity in the human body.
Some diseases which these medical specialists treat include;
- Thyroid disorders
- Disorders of sexual development and maturation
Radiology and Radiological medicine
Radiology is one of the specialties in medicine that is involved with the use of various medical imaging techniques to diagnose and treat diseases.
Radiologists are colloquially named the eyes of modern medicine because using their high power techniques, they can visualize the pathophysiological processes going on in the human body making this easier to make diagnosis.
Procedures used by radiologists can either be invasive or non-invasive. Invasive means that it requires that the radiologist uses an instrument which penetrates the patients body. And non-invasive if the instrument used in the procedure can visualize the patient’s body without need of penetration.
The radiologist also helps the surgeons and other physicians who are involved in the patient’s management to understand what a particular scan says about the patient’s condition by interpreting the result of the scan.
Also, radiologists can use some of these procedures in treatment of patients like in radiation therapy, ultrasound guided biopsy, arterial and venous embolization. Such radiology specialists are called Interventional Radiologists.
Some of the procedures used by radiologists include;
- Computed Tomography Scans (CT scans)
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging
- Positron Emission Tomography
- Radionuclide imaging
Dermatology is an internal medicine subspecialty that deals with the prevention, diagnosis, and management of diseases of the skin and the integumentary system. The integumentary system includes the hairs, nails, other skin appendages.
Significant diseases managed by dermatologists are skin cancer, skin infections, eczemas, Warts, burns.
Anesthesiology is a specialty in medicine that deals with the preoperative, intraoperative, and post-operative care of patients that is before, within, and after surgery. Anesthesiologists also help in the management of patients requiring intensive care and close monitoring such as patients on life support.
They also work in emergency units where they play an active role in the resuscitation of patients. They also provide pain and palliative care to patients.
Oncology is a medical specialty that is concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management of all kinds of cancers. Medical specialists in this field are called oncologists.
The roles of oncologists cut across every specialty of medicine as cancers can arise from almost all the body cells, tissues, and organs.
Treatment of cancer involves medical treatment (chemotherapy), Radiation (Radiotherapy), surgical treatment, and palliative care.
Oncologists are most concerned with the chemotherapy treatment while they give expert advice to surgeons and radiologists who take care of the surgical and radiological treatment respectively.
Psychiatry is an internal medicine specialty that is concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, and management of mental illnesses and disorders. This includes various personality disorders, maladaptations related to mood, cognition, behavior, and perception.
Common illnesses managed by Psychiatrists include;
- Personality disorders
- Learning disabilities
- Somatic Symptom Disorder
Internal Medicine Subspecialties Under Psychiatry Include;
- Biological Psychiatry
- Community Psychiatry
- Cross-cultural Psychiatry
- Emergency Psychiatry
- Evolutionary Psychiatry
- Global Mental Health
- Military Psychiatry
- Neurodevelopmental disorders
- Social Psychiatry
- Addiction Psychiatry
Rheumatology is a branch of medicine that is concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, and management of diseases affecting the immune system. A doctor who specializes in Rheumatology is called a Rheumatologist.
Common diseases managed by Rheumatologists are
- Autoimmune diseases
- Inflammatory diseases
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
Haematology also spelt as Hematology is one of the specialties in medicine that is responsible for the diagnosis and management of a wide range of illnesses affecting the blood including the disorders of the white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
Diseases of the blood could be malignant (cancerous) or benign and these are managed by hematologists in hospital wards and in outpatient clinics.
Hematology as field of study is under Pathology which is the study of alterations in the physiological functions of the body.
Significant Diseases Managed By Hematologists Include;
- Sickle cell Disease
- Coagulation disorders like Hemophilia and Von Willibrand’s disease
- Multiple Myeloma
- Diseases of the blood vessels
- Heavy Metal Poisoning
Morbid Pathology / Histopathology
Histopathology is a medical specialty that is concerned with the diagnosis of diseases affecting body tissues. It is a subspecialty of Pathology.
Procedures used by Histopathologists involves the viewing of the suspicious tissue under a microscope to look out for abnormalities in the normal structure.
This medical specialty is very useful in the diagnosis of cancer and other structural malformations and changes in body tissues.
Medical microbiology is a medical specialty that is responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases caused by micro-organisms. It is a subspecialty of Pathology.
Medical Microbiologists can work in hospital settings or in laboratories where they conduct tests using body fluids and tissues of suspected persons and writing diagnostic reports from the result of the tests.
Chemical Pathology is one of the subspecialties under Pathology that deals with study and diagnosis of diseases affecting the chemical and biochemical mechanisms in the body.
Chemical pathologists achieve this mostly by the analysis of body fluids such as blood, urine and cerebrospinal fluid.
Just like Medical biologists, these specialists can also work in hospital settings where they contribute to patient’s management or in private settings where they analyze and interpret results from examination of specimens from the body.
Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics
Clinical Pharmacology is a branch of internal medicine that deals with research, education, policy making and advising about the correct usage medications in humans and how such knowledge can be implemented in clinical practice.
These group of medical specialists can work in hospitals as policy makers, research laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, world health organization and non-governmental bodies and societies.
Public health is one of the specialties of medicine that is concerned with the prevention of disease, prolonging life, and improving quality of life through organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, communities and individuals.
Public health is a multi-disciplinary field of practice, and public health workers are usually found taking up policy making and administrative positions in both governmental and non-governmental associations.
These specialists are also found in fields like politics, and also among the frontliners in the management of epidemics and global pandemics.
How Many Years Does It Take To Be A Medical Specialist? (Physician Years In College)
It takes a minimum of 12 years to become a consultant in any medical specialty. The years spent in training is broken down as follows;
1. Medical School Training (For A Physicians License)
This is also known as MBBS in some places like Nigeria and the U.K. And some call it Doctor of Medicine (MD) like in the U.S and Australia. It could also be Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO).
But they all require 4 to 6 years of medical school training to attain.
2. Medical Internship and Foundational Programs
The medical internship is a one year training that newly graduated medical doctors undergo order to receive their Physician license as medical practitioners.
The foundational program is a 2 to 3 year program which medical doctors who want go into specialization in a medical or surgical specialty pass through in order to be accepted into a specialist training programme or residency program.
3. Residency Program
A residency program is a special training which doctors undergo in various specialties to obtain their permanent license to practice freely anywhere in the country.
When medical doctors complete a residency program in any medical or surgical specialty, they are called Consultants. This is the generally recognized highest level of training anyone can get as a medical doctor.
Also, consultants who received their training in any of the specialties under surgery are called Surgeons.
Fellowship is also another program which doctors who have passed all their residency exams undertake in order to become appointed as Consultants. This can take up to years to complete.
How Do Doctors Choose A Specialty?
Choosing an area of specialization is one of the most important decisions any medical school graduate can ever make.
Dr. Iloanusi, a Consultant Radiologist in the University of Nigeria, stated during a seminar for fresh medical graduates that it is easier to choose a specialty after graduating from medical school when you follow your natural instinct.
By this it is possible that she meant choosing a specialty that best aligns with your personality and needs in life as only then will you be truly happy doing the things you love.
It is not uncommon for medics to choose a specialty because they are well paid, but other factors to put into consideration include;
- The number of years of residency training
- Personal clinical interests
- Personality type
Also, Read MBTI Types in Medical School
Also, it is best to narrow down your options as early as possible. This means eliminating either the surgical or medical specialties. This will give you lesser alternatives to choose from and gives you better chances of making the best decision.
Other Factors that could affect the specialty of medicine you can choose;
- Your performance in school: Students who are better in Anatomy will most likely end up becoming surgeons.
- Your Score In Primaries and Residency Entrance Exams: To enter into any medical residency program, you are required to take an entrance exam called primaries in some places. There is usually a cut off mark for this exam and reaching this cut off mark is a major determining factor as to whether you will be accepted into the residency program.
- Competition In the Residency Program: Some medical specialties are more competitive than others. The lesser the competition, the higher your chances of gaining placement in the training.
- Your Temperament: According to a study conducted in a University in the United States, a group of surgeons and clinicians (internal medicine physicians) were analyzed based on their personality types. Certain temperaments were found to be more pronounced in Surgeons and less pronounced in Clinicians and vice versa.
You can take the personality test derived from this research below.
- Critical Thinkers Vs Action Takers: If you are observant enough, you will find that most surgeons get bored by too much talks, they are mostly interested in going to the theatre to remove the cause of a disease. On the other hand, clinicians are so much obsessed with paper works, critical thinking and ward rounds. You know which one resonates more with you.
We want to conclude by stating that no specialty is better than the other. Although specialties of medicine require more work hours, some have higher pays, and some enjoy a better quality of life.
But since medicine is mainly concerned with the management of patients, and all specialties play very important roles in this, then all are equally important. It is left for you to choose based on your own personal bias and reasons.