15 Types Of Doctors: The Differences And What They Do

By Sky Ariella
Sep. 19, 2022
Articles In Guide

Since there are so many different illnesses, body systems, and causes that can be at play when a person is sick or injured, the medical field includes a wide variety of specialties that define different types of doctors.

In this article, you’ll find a list of 15 types of doctors that keep the medical industry going and what their responsibilities are, as well as tips for starting a career as a doctor.

Key Takeaways

  • Three of the highest-paid types of doctors include surgeon, dermatologist, and anesthesiologist.

  • You can choose your medical specialty based on what part of the body and/or what type of patient you want to treat.

  • When starting a career as a doctor, start working at it early, don’t take your tests lightly, and don’t give up.

15 Types Of Doctors: The Differences And What They Do

15 Types of Doctors

  1. General Practitioner
    Average Annual Salary: $174,000

    A general practitioner is probably the first image that jumps to your mind when you imagine the role of a standard doctor. They’re doctors who handle non-surgical medical care.

    Their patients can seek help for a wide range of possible health issues, and they often evaluate patients using exams and tests to diagnose an illness or injury. General practitioners also offer patients treatment within their wheelhouse or refer them to the proper specialist for further evaluation.

    In addition to assisting people with a specific issue, general practitioners also perform routine physical assessments for adults. General practitioners work with many other medical professionals to provide care for their patients.

    Since these doctors are often working with many different kinds of people and health issues, they need above-average communication skills to explain complex medical jargon simply and effectively.

    Requirements: Medical degree, current MD license in the practicing state, National Medical Doctor Certification.

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  2. General Pediatrician
    Average Annual Salary: $160,000

    A general pediatrician has a somewhat similar job to a general practitioner. However, they only work with children. General pediatricians take care of children from the time they’re infants until they’re young adults. Their work with these patients helps build an accurate medical history that they can take with them into adulthood.

    Pediatricians will administer regular check-ups to accommodate the special needs of individuals who are still in their growing phase.

    They also diagnose and provide treatment for medical conditions that affect young people specifically. Their typical tasks can involve giving vaccinations, providing preventative healthcare, and teaching parents and children about their health.

    Since general pediatricians strictly work with children, they need particular skills to perform their necessary duties with a demeanor that’s comforting to young people.

    Requirements: Medical degree, current MD license in the practicing state, 3-4 year residency program, American Board of Pediatrics certification taken every ten years.

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  3. Cardiologist
    Average Annual Salary: $248,000

    Cardiologists are doctors who focus on treating adults who have heart or cardiovascular disease. They diagnose, treat, and create disease-management systems for patients suffering from these ailments. While part of a cardiologist’s job is to treat these illnesses, they’re also responsible for encouraging preventative care.

    Some of a cardiologist’s typical responsibilities consist of ordering tests relevant to the heart and blood vessels, counseling people at risk of developing heart disease in the future, and treating issues like heart attacks, failures, and rhythm problems.

    A cardiologist’s job is just as much about preventing heart disease as it is about managing and treating it. This means that cardiologists must effectively talk to people about the health issues they could be facing down the line and be impactful enough for the patient to make a change in their life.

    Requirements: Medical degree, 3 years of an internal medicine residency, 3-4 year cardiology fellowship, cardiology certification.

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  4. Dermatologist
    Average Annual Salary: $321,000

    The job of a dermatologist is to handle the health of people’s skin. They can also handle health problems with nails and hair. Their work can range from fairly minor issues like sunburns and acne to more severe skin cancer problems.

    Much like other medical practitioners, dermatologists work with patients from diagnosis to the process of treatment. Dermatologists also monitor their patient’s progress over time to see if their prescribed treatments are working effectively.

    Requirements: Medical degree, 3 years of a residency, 1 to 2-year fellowship, licensing from the American Board of Dermatology.

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  5. Anesthesiologist
    Average Annual Salary: $321,000

    Many medical procedures require relief from the pain the body would endure if left to its own devices. That’s why anesthetics are used to limit or completely eradicate any pain sensation that a patient feels during procedures like surgery. It’s the job of an anesthesiologist to administer these powerful drugs properly.

    The role of an anesthesiologist is larger than just administering the drugs people need to get through medical procedures.

    They need to carefully consider each patient’s medical history to ensure that the prescribed pain management program is suitable. Anesthesiologists are also responsible for educating patients on the risks of anesthesia.

    Requirements: Medical degree, anesthesiology residency, certification by the Board of Anesthesiology in the practicing state.

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  6. Psychiatrist
    Average Annual Salary: $201,000

    Illnesses of the mind are just as debilitating and difficult as those of the body. A psychiatrist’s job involves working with people demonstrating mental health issues to diagnose and effectively treat these illnesses.

    Based on symptoms that a patient demonstrates or describes, a psychiatrist orders testing to evaluate potential diagnoses. Once a diagnosis has been landed on, they develop steps for handling the issue moving forward.

    Discovering this in-depth information about every patient usually requires some talk therapy and psychoanalysis to learn more about the problems they’re facing. There is a huge variety of treatment methodology that can be employed by psychiatrists depending on the patient’s needs.

    Sometimes, psychiatrists delve into people’s thought process through extensive cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Other times, they prescribe medication to help a patient cope with persisting symptoms of their mental illness.

    Psychiatrists handle a lot of deep emotional issues from their patients, as opposed to physical problems. That task demands a huge amount of empathy, listening, and communication skills.

    Requirements: Medical degree, at least four years in an accredited residency, certification by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

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  7. Emergency Medical Physicians
    Average Annual Salary: $209,000

    With serious life-or-death medical situations, there is no time to wait for a physician’s office hours. Whether a freak accident occurred that resulted in a major injury or a person has become unresponsive from overwhelming symptoms, an emergency medical physician steps in to literally save the day.

    The majority of patients that an emergency medical physician takes care of are on the brink of death. Every moment is crucial.

    Often, their main focus is resuscitating and stabilizing their patients. Once they’re saved from the severity of the medical situation at hand, an emergency medical physician transfers them to the appropriate channels like the ICU or another hospital.

    While most doctors deal with situations that would be overwhelmingly stressful to the average person, the role of an emergency medical physician is especially taxing.

    These types of doctors are constantly put in high-pressure situations that require their skills to save lives. Being an emergency medical physician requires the ability to stay calm under pressure and make executive decisions quickly.

    Requirements: Medical degree, medical licensing in the practicing state, 3-4 year residency, Emergency Medical Certification renewed every ten years.

  8. Obstetrician/Gynecologist (OB/GYN)
    Average Annual Salary: $271,000

    Doctors who work in the specialty of Obstetrics and Gynecology center their career around women’s health.

    This involves diagnosing and treating illnesses that impact women, like specific types of cancers and menopause. To ensure that their patient’s female health is functioning properly, OB/GYN doctors regularly monitor them with check-ups.

    Obstetrician/gynecologists also spend a lot of their time working with pregnant women to provide them with medical support throughout this life-changing process. This includes giving childbirth and postpartum care. Most doctors need to educate their patients as part of their job description, which is also true for OB/GYNs.

    Many of their patients are going through a transformative period in their lives of becoming parents, and they rely on the support and knowledge of their OB/GYN to guide them through this. For these reasons, compassion and communication skills are especially helpful for obstetricians/gynecologists in their careers.

    Requirements: Medical degree, 3-7 year residency program, passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and the certification exam from the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

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  9. Radiologist
    Average Annual Salary: $282,000

    The specialty of a radiologist is working with medical imaging technology like x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. They must consider a patient’s medical history to decide the best course of action for processing medical images. Radiologists also explain to their patients the techniques that will be used to gather their medical images.

    In addition to working with patients who need medical images, they also work with radiology lab technicians to ensure they are perfect and provide the information needed for a diagnosis.

    Based on the results of the medical images, radiologists interpret the data and make a diagnosis to give to the physician. Being a team player is crucial for being a radiologist because the job involves working with many different types of people to obtain conclusive data.

    Requirements: Medical degree, 4-5 year residency, 1-2 year fellowship, medical licensing in the practicing state.

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  10. Podiatrist
    Average Annual Salary: $91,000

    A podiatrist is responsible for diagnosing and treating issues of the feet, ankles, and lower legs. In addition, they prescribe medications to deal with these issues and physical therapy to people who have foot injuries.

    Additionally, they use symptoms of the feet to diagnose more dire conditions like diabetes or heart disease. Their diagnoses commonly come at a crucial time because symptoms with the feet and ankles can indicate larger issues in a person’s bodily systems.

    Qualified podiatrists can also perform surgeries on the feet and general lower leg area to remedy an injury or fix an ongoing situation. Since podiatrists need to always be on the lookout for potentially telling symptoms involving a patient’s feet, their role requires many analytical thinking skills.

    Requirements: Medical degree in podiatric medicine, 2-4 year residency, proper licensing according to state requirements, American Medical Board certification.

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  11. Endocrinologist
    Average Annual Salary: $227,000

    An endocrinologist focuses on treating hormone disorders and diseases that impact the endocrine glands. After examining their patients to evaluate their health issues, an endocrinologist will diagnose and proceed with prescribing medication or surgery.

    The main ailments that endocrinologists handle are abnormalities with the thyroid, infertility, cholesterol disorders, and cancer of the endocrine glands.

    As with many types of doctors, the role of an endocrinologist is investigative in nature. They look at the clues presented to them through a patient’s symptoms and deduce if there’s a hormonal imbalance at play. They also educate their patients on the conditions that they have if there is a hormonal issue happening.

    Requirements: Medical degree, 2-3 year residency program, 2-3 year fellowship program, certification from the American Board of Internal Medicine, and certification in the endocrinology specialty.

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  12. Oncologist
    Average Annual Salary: $207,000

    An oncologist is a type of doctor that specializes in cancer from diagnosis to treatment. A big part of this responsibility is talking to patients about the reality of their medical situation, breaking down treatment plans, and providing advice for symptom management.

    Oncologists usually run a cancer treatment team made up of a variety of medical professionals who work cohesively together to provide adequate care.

    Oncologists focus on medical, radiation, or surgical areas of the field and specialize in studying different types of cancer.

    Cancer is an extremely difficult disease to live with and watch people suffer from. That’s why oncologists need to be compassionate but also objective and rational.

    Requirements: Medical degree, a residency in internal medicine, 2-year fellowship, licensing according to practicing state, board certification.

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  13. Immunologist
    Average Annual Salary: $75,000

    As their title suggests, immunologists study the human immune system. This could include things like allergies and autoimmune diseases. Some immunologists spend most of their careers studying how the immune system functions and developing more accurate methods of diagnosis and treatment.

    Their goal is to understand why the immune system works in some cases and fails in others.

    Immunologists who work with patients suffering from conditions of the immune system can have a multitude of responsibilities on their hands. Their tasks include developing personalized treatment plans, interpreting results to make diagnostic calls, and providing therapies like allergen immunotherapy.

    The field of immunology is vastly complex, and the work that these types of doctors do is invaluable to advancements in medicine as a whole.

    Requirements: Medical degree, residency program, 3-year fellowship, certification the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Allergy and Immunology.

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  14. Neurologist
    Average Annual Salary: $257,000

    The work that a neurologist does revolves around disorders that impact the nervous system. This includes issues with the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles. Neurologists usually work in a clinical office or hospital setting.

    Here, they run and read tests like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Axial Tomography (CAT) that are used to determine a diagnosis and possible treatment.

    Some of the health issues or conditions that neurologists typically work on include epilepsy, traumatic head injuries and sleep disorders. After looking at a patient’s speech, coordination and reflexes they determine if there is a neurological origin of issues and then move forward with the appropriate tests or referrals.

    Neurologists also communicate with their patients to explain their conditions and the support services available.

    Requirements: Medical degree, a one-year internship, 3-year residency program, up to 8 years of a fellowship, state licensing, and optional board certification.

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  15. Surgeon
    Average Annual Salary: $328,000

    The biggest task that sets surgeons apart from other doctors is that they specialize in performing surgical procedures that are used to solve health problems. Within the speciality of being a surgeon, these doctors will focus on niche areas within the field.

    For example, a pediatric surgeon would spend their career operating on children and a cardiothoracic surgeon works on surgeries that involve the heart, lungs or chest.

    Surgeons can also work in varied settings like hospitals, academic institutions, the military and government services. In addition to performing the actual operation, surgeons must also create a plan of attack for the surgery beforehand that keeps the patient’s comfort in mind.

    After surgery, surgeons also assist in postoperative care by devising plans for their patients to make a speedy recovery.

    Being a surgeon is regularly regarded as a difficult sect of medicine to work in. The job requires all the people skills that other medical specialities need, but on top of that, surgeons must have incredible dexterity and be extremely detail-oriented in their work.

    Requirements: Medical degree, 3-year residency, a fellowship, multi-year internship, continual education, certification and specialization certification from the American Board of Surgery.

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Tips for Starting a Career as a Doctor

While there is no guaranteed formula for becoming a doctor, here are some tips on how to set yourself up for success as best as you can.

  1. Start early. You don’t need to graduate early so you can start medical school at age 19 or anything like that, but you do need to get serious about your studies starting in high school and college.

    You won’t be kept from being a doctor if you don’t ace your classes, but the better you do in high school, the more likely you are to get into a good college. And the better you do at that good college, the better chance you’ll have at getting into a good medical school.

  2. Don’t take your tests lightly. From the MCAT to your board examinations, don’t blow off any of your tests. No, they aren’t life and death, but they are key to your starting a career as a doctor, so take them seriously.

  3. Don’t give up. If you don’t get into medical school on your first try, don’t give up. Plenty of doctors have to try a few times to get into medical school. In between application cycles, do what you can to beef up your resume, such as shadowing doctors and getting a job in the medical field.

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Sky Ariella

Sky Ariella is a professional freelance writer, originally from New York. She has been featured on websites and online magazines covering topics in career, travel, and lifestyle. She received her BA in psychology from Hunter College.

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