Some health insurance plans allow you to refer yourself to a doctor—that is, if you know what is wrong, you can go see a medical specialist without having to be referred by your regular doctor. In other plans, you have to be referred to a specialist by your primary care physician (regular doctor). If you are trying to figure out what kind of doctor you need for your health problem or symptoms you’re having, then this list will help you out. It tells you what kind of doctor treats what. Then you can find the name of a specialist by calling your local hospital, asking friends or family if they know a good doctor, or asking your primary care doctor to recommend someone.
What Kind of Doctor Do I Need?
One tip I learned a long time ago about finding a good doctor—ask a nurse. Nurses know the best doctors! In general there are two categories of doctors, those that practice medicine and those that do surgery—some do both. If you are seeking the help of a doctor, either a general medical doctor, a specialist, or a surgeon, the following medical specialty list will help you with what type doctor you need. These specialists may be MDs (medical doctors) or DOs (doctors of osteopathy). The following list is for medical doctors, if you need more information about surgery and surgeons see: What Kind of Surgeon Do I Need?
- An allergist/immunologist is a doctor that specializes in the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of allergies, and disorders of the immune system. Allergies are when the body’s immune system overreacts to something it’s not used to causing a “reaction.” Allergens—things that irritate the body, like pollen, foods, mold, smoke, or medicine—can cause an allergic reaction or allergy. Symptoms of allergic reaction can include sneezing, rash, tears in the eyes and runny nose. Shortness of breath, chest tightness and trouble breathing are symptoms of a severe reaction, and often need emergency treatment. An allergist specializes in identifying the causes of these reactions and recommends treatment. Treatment can include avoiding the allergen, shots to decrease symptoms (called desensitization shots) or pills.
- An allergist/immunologist treats ashtma, anaphylasis, rhinitis, eczema, urticaria, adverse reactions to drugs, foods and insect stings. They also treat problems related to autoimmune disease, organ transplantation or malignancies of the immune system. Disorders include allergic rhinitis, anaphylaxis, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis.
- An anesthesiologist is the doctor that gives you anesthesia, puts “you to sleep,” when you have surgery, a baby or certain diagnostic procedures. (Anesthesia is the loss of all sensation.) They also asses the condition of your lungs, heart and circulation before surgery. They decide how much and what kind of anesthesia is needed, and your position on the operating table. They provide either local or general anesthesia. During the operation they watch for signs of trouble and then decide and take any actions needed to keep an emergency from developing. They also direct the resuscitation in patients with heart or breathing emergencies. Anesthesiologists watch your progress while you wake up and immediately after surgery for any complications from the anesthesia or breathing.
- Some anesthesiologist manage pain after surgery, work in pain control clinics, do epidural injections for back pain and provide anesthesia for test such as a colonoscopy.
- A cardiologist is a doctor that specializes in diagnosing heart disease and caring for the heart including heart failure, heart attack, cardiomyopathy, and high blood pressure.
- Reasons to see a cardiologist include chest pains (angina), heart attack (myocardial infarction), irregular heart beats (arrhythmias), abnormal heart beats, heart murmurs, heart valve disorders, heart muscle disease, pulmonary hypertension, pericarditis, low blood pressure, shock, high blood pressure (hypertension), abnormal EKG’s, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, coronary artery disease, mitral valve disease, heart tumors, pericardial diseases, Dressler’s syndrome, ventricular septal defects, or pre-operative medical clearance.
- Cardiologist do test such as
- Doppler echocardiogram
- stress test including nuclear stress test
- cardiac catheterization
- A dermatologist is a doctor that specializes in dermatology— the branch of medical science that deals with the structure, function, and disorders of the skin, hair and nails.
- A dermatologist evaluates and treats skin rashes, growths, infections, hair loss, and nail problems. Dermatologists remove warts, biopsy skin for skin cancers, and treat skin cancer of mouth, and external genitalia. Disorders a dermatologist treats include nail fungus, psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, acne, rosacea, urticaria, scabies, herpes zoster, ring worm, hives, dandruff, and fungal infections. Dermatologists have extensive experience in treating skin cancers, moles, skin tumors, contact dermatitis and infectious diseases. Dermatologists manage scars and other cosmetic disorders.
- American Academy of Dermatology
- The doctor who provides emergency care in an emergency clinic or hospital emergency room is an emergency medicine specialist. These specialists treat sudden illnesses, accidents or injuries such as gun shot wounds or auto accidents that may be life threatening.
- An endocrinologist diagnoses and treats disorders of glands and hormones. Specific organs in the endocrine system include the thyroid (which regulates the body’s metabolism and energy level), the parathyroid (which regulates calcium and vitamin D), the adrenal glands (which regulates water and mineral balance and produces steroids, amines, epinephrine and norepinephrine), the ovaries (which regulates female hormones), the testes (which regulates male hormones), the pancreas (which secretes insulin to regulate blood sugar and glucagon), and the pituitary gland (produces oxytocin and ADH and secretes precursor hormones for other glands to work).
- The endocrinologists treats disorders due to the over- or under-production of gland hormones such as hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes (high blood sugar), adult onset diabetes mellitus, Addison’s disease, Grave’s disease, Cushing’s Syndrome, pituitary tumors, calcium metabolism disorders and goiter.
American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists
- For most of us, it is a family practice doctor that we know best. They are the ones that coordinate our health care and often called “primary care doctors.” A Family Practice doctor specializes in family medicine, and does not practice surgery. A family doctor can give care, preventive care services, as well as treat disorders and diseases regardless of age, gender, or type of problem. Sometimes, family doctors may sew up minor cuts, open small abscesses or remove warts.
- The family practitioner is a good place to start because if you have an unusual collection of symptoms like those found in new or rare diseases like Chagas or Bourbon, this doctor will have the best chance of referring you to the right specialist the first time.
- An gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders (diseases) of the digestive system, gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, duodenum, large intestine, anus, rectum, pancreas, liver disease, gallbladder disease, and biliary system.
- Disorders of the GI tract include difficulty swallowing, appendicitis, cirrhosis of the liver, gallstones, diverticulitis, diverticulosis, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), hepatitis, jaundice, hiatal hernia, cholecystitis, inflammatory bowel disease, enlarged liver or spleen, chronic pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, bloody stools, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s Disease, bowel obstruction, peptic ulcer, stomach ulcers, gastric ulcers, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, hemorrhoids, gastric reflux, peptic ulcer, and heartburn. See a gastroenterologist for symptoms such as blood in stool.
Gastrointestinal tract tests, such as endoscopy (looking for tumors, bleeding, ulcers and cancer) and colonoscopy (looking for tumors, polyps, inflammation, bleeding, ulcers and cancer in the colon) are preformed or interpreted by a gastroenterologist.American College of Gastroenterology
- Specializes in the care of older adults (health for seniors) called geriatrics. They are trained to recognize unusual presentations of illness and drug interactions. Common geriatric conditions include incontinence, falls, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
- A gynecologist specializes in women’s health and medicine including prenatal care and fertility.
- Obstetricians deliver baby’s and can do surgeries such as c-section (cesarean), episiotomy, and hysterectomy. Gynecologists treat disorders such as ovulation problems, cervical problems, uterine bleeding, painful periods, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids, and breast changes.A perinatologist also cares for pregnant women, but specializes in care for women with problem pregnancies such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and preterm birth.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- A hematologist specializes in disorders of the blood, spleen and lymph nodes such as anemia, AIDs, clotting disorders, hemophilia, thrombocytopenia, leukemia, sickle cell disease and cancers of the lymph node glands (lymphoma). They perform special types of transfusions and biopsy bone marrow for analysis. An oncologist is a doctor that specializes in oncology, the branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of tumors. Tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). An oncologist specializes in the diagnosis, treatment and management of cancer. Treatment can include bone marrow biopsy or chemotherapy.
- A hospitalist is a hospital-based general physician, medical sub specialist (pediatrician) or family practitioner who assume the care of hospitalized patients in the place of patients’ primary care doctor in acute care or intensive care units. The hospitalist acts as a consultant on surgical patients and has limited outpatient care responsibilities.
Infectious Disease Specialist
- An infectious disease specialist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, or unknown origin.
- Infectious disease specialists treat infections that have not responded to treatment by your regular doctor or other life threatening infections like HIV, tuberculosis and MRSA. They also treat viral infections, worm infestations, zoonoses, tapeworm, lyme disease, candida, and airborne infections. They treat infectious disorders including herpes simplex, herpes zoster, infectious mononucleosis, lyme disease, rabies, respiratory syncytial virus, rubella, salmonellosis, and toxoplasmosis.
- An internist is a doctor that specializes in internal medicine for adolescents and adults, and does not practice surgery. Internal medicine is the branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of non surgical diseases. Today, a general internist is often called a “primary care doctor” and treats adults and adolescents. The internist’s training includes emergency medicine, hospital medicine, geriatrics, and critical care medicine. Internists do physical exams.
- A nephrologists specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney and urinary tract diseases. Any abnormalities in diagnostic kidney testsor urine tests are referred to a nephrologist.They also monitor patients on dialysis, set dietary restrictions for kidney disease and dialysis patients, consult with surgeons for kidney transplants and surgeries, and do endoscopy of the renal system.
- Nephrologists treat acute and chronic kidney (renal) failure, high blood pressure, fluid and mineral imbalances, dialysis of body wastes, glomerulonephritis, neurogenic bladder, kidney stones, polycystic kidney disease, hydronephrosis, nephrosis, nephritis, acute tubular necrosis, benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostatitis, blood vessel disorders of the kidneys, and urinary tract infections and obstructions. Nephrologist can perform a kidney biopsy.
- A neurologist diagnoses, treats and manages nervous system disorders and injuries which include the brain, nerves, and spinal cord. Neurologist also treat peripheral nerves, muscles, and the autonomic nervous system as well as the blood vessels that related to these structures.They also specialize in brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, seizure disorders, migraine headaches, pain, meningitis, epilepsy, Guillain-Barré, myasthenia gravis, brain tumors and brain infections, cerebral palsy, dyspraxia and dementia. A neurologist treats traumatic brain injuries and head injuries, stroke, coma, transient ischemic attacks, and hypoxia. Neurologists treat nervous system disorders like multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), viral and bacterial encephalitis, infections of the brain and spinal cord, and herpes zoster. They also treat sleep disorders and problems sleeping, smell and taste disorders.
- Neurologists perform test such as nerve conduction studies and lumbar puncture.
Nuclear Medicine Physician
A nuclear medicine radiologist is a physician that specializes in diagnostic methods that use radiopharmaceuticals. These doctors use specific methods that help generate images of a person’s internal systems in order to come up with appropriate treatment and diagnoses. The most common conditions they treat include hyperthyroidism, lymphomas, and a variety of cancers.
- An ophthalmologist or optometrist is a doctor that specializes in disorders of the eye and vision correction such as nearsightedness, farsightedness. They treat eye problems caused by high blood pressure and diabetes, glaucoma, lens problems, uveitis and iritis, disorders of the retina, retinopathy, cataracts, conjunctivitis, and pink eye. They also prescribe glasses and contact lenses. Ophthalmology is the branch of medicine that deals with the structure, function and diseases of the eye and do surgery.
- An orthopedist is a doctor that specializes in orthopedics – the field of medicine that deals with the correction, preservation and prevention of skeletal deformities. Orthopedists usually have a specialty interest (sub-specialty) and focus their practice on a certain part of the skeletal system such as the hand, foot, or spine. Orthopedist not only treat medical conditions, they do surgery such as hip, knee and shoulder replacements, knee arthroscopy and spinal fusion.Orthopedists treat musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease), carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic low back pain, fibromyalgia, tendinitis, degenerative disc disease, joint dislocations, osteoporosis, osteomyelitis, osteomalacia, Paget’s disease, scoliosis, kyphosis, lordosis, Herbeden’s notes, Bouchard’s nodes, ganglions, gout, pseudogout, Charcot’s joints, plantar fasciitis, Morton’s neuroma, Achilles Tendonitis, rhabdomyolysis, bursitis, tendonitis or tendonopathy, spinal stenosis, sciatica, spondylolisthesis, and sports injuries such as ligament and tendon tears, strains and sprains and bone fractures. They treat neck and shoulder problems such as whiplash, torticollis, frozen shoulder, dislocated shoulder.
- Orthopedists administer cortisone injections for bursitis and other tendon and ligaments injuries.
- An otolaryngologist specializes in diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the ears, nose and throat and the head and neck in general.
- These disorders include: ear infections (otitis media), hearing loss, earache, perforated ear drum, middle ear cysts, sinus infection, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), vertigo, Meniere’s disease, balance problems, and nosebleeds.
Pain Management Specialist
- Pain management specialists treat all types of pain. These doctors are usually anesthesiologists with special training in pain management. Chronic pain—pain that lasts more than 3 months—is managed by pain care specialist on an outpatient basis. Treatments include prescription pain medicine as patches or pills, nerve block injections, and referrals to physical therapy, massage and acupuncture.
- A pediatrician is a doctor that specializes in pediatrics – the branch of medicine that deals with the development and care of newborns, infants, children and adolescents—ages birth to 18. Pediatricians provide much the same health care for children as an internist provides for adults. There are also sub-specialties of pediatrics such as psychiatry and cardiology.
- Foot disorders are diagnosed and treated by a podiatrist. A podiatrist can also do surgery on the foot and ankle and treat problems such as ingrown toenails, bunions, plantar fasciitis, Morton’s neuroma, hammertoe, achilles tendon tear, achilles tendonitis, and rupture, corns, heel pain, heel spurs, stress fractures, toe nails, tendon injuries in the foot and leg, tarsal tunnel syndrome, foot numbness, shin splints, ankle sprains, and physical deformities of the foot and ankle. Podiatrist also treat sports injuries to the feet and ankle. Podiatrist also recommend and fit orthotics such as sock liners and arch supports.
- A psychiatrist is a doctor that specializes in the branch of medicine that deals with the study and treatment of mental, addictive, emotional, and behavioral disorders including depression, mood disorders, anxiety disorders like poor sleep, loss of appetite and agitation, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, obsessive compulsive disorder, personality disorder, phobias, psychoses and schizophrenia.
- A psychologist is a doctor that specializes in the branch of medicine that deals with the study and treatment of behavior.
- A pulmonologist specializes in pulmonary medicine and treats disorders of the lungs and chest (respiratory disorders) like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), ARDS, acute respiratory distress, pneumonia, asbestosis, asthma, atelectasis, bronchiectasis, bronchitis, cor pulmonale, cystic fibrosis, emphysema, tuberculosis, obstructive airway disease, pulmonary edema, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), pulmonary embolism, pleural disorders, sarcoidosis, tuberculosis, pulmonary embolism, pleural effusion, and pneumothorax. Pulmonologists also do test such as bronchoscopy.
- Interpretation of x-rays and other diagnostic studies such as MRI, CT scans, mammograms, and sonograms are done by a radiologist. Interventional radiologist can perform biopsies and angiograms as well as inject chemotherapy into tumors.
- A radiation oncologist specializes in the treatment of cancer, especially malignant tumors, using radiation and works closely with the oncologist. They determine where the radiation goes, the type needed, and the dosage for the type of cancer.
- A rheumatologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of the joints, muscles, bones, tendons and connective tissue. They treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, and symptoms of rheumatism. They also treat common sports injuries and collagen diseases.
- A urologist specializes in urology – the branch of medicine that deals with the urinary tract, ureters, kidneys, adrenal glands, bladder and disorders of the prostate. These disorders include kidney stones, cystitis, incontinence, pyelonephritis, prostatitis, prostate cancer, enlarged prostate, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), sexually transmitted disease (STDs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, urethritis, syphilis, genital herpes, ejaculation problems, erection problems and erectile dysfunction.
A vascular surgeon is a medical doctor who performs operations on the vascular system, or arteries and the veins. This also includes surgeons who can be called cardiothoracic surgeons, cardiovascular surgeons, general thoracic surgeons, and congenital heart surgeons.
The following is a list of surgeries performed by a thoracic surgeon.
- For hernia repair surgery, you should see a general surgeon.
- For more information about the different types of surgeons and what operations they perform.
Healthcare Degrees: Due to the rising demand for healthcare professionals, many colleges and universities are offering new and exciting healthcare degree programs. Some of these colleges offer degree programs online, on-site or a combination typically called blended learning.
College Health Degrees
Options for Healthcare Degrees
Below is a list of specific articles discussing the types of colleges and universities that provide college health degrees.
College and University programs preparing you for a career Nursing.
College and University programs providing a Masters in Nursing.
College and University programs preparing you for a career Healthcare Administration or Healthcare Management.
College and University programs preparing you for a career Healthcare Information Technology.
College and University programs preparing you for a career Dental Assistant.
College and University programs preparing you for a career Physical Therapy.
College and University programs preparing you for a career preparing you for a career in Medical Billing Coding.
As you evaluate your career to determine the past degree for your personality, you may consider taking a test to determine your adaptability to a healthcare professional degree.