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Physician Specialties

What type of specialist would you see for an unexplained rash? What about your child’s recurrent ear infections? These specialties and more are included in the following glossary.

A general practice or family practice physician has general knowledge of disease and usually serves as a primary care provider (PCP) for insurance purposes. The PCP could also be a pediatrician, specializing in children’s health, or an internist, who treats adults. The PCP addresses the most common types of illness and may serve as a “gatekeeper”. Many insurance plans require the patient to see the primary care provider for a referral before visiting a specialist.

A surgeon is a specialist in performing operations; that is, invasive procedures such as removal of a tumor or transplanting an organ. Surgery has its own subspecialties, including:

Cardiovascular surgery – heart and associated blood vessels.
Vascular surgery – blood vessels other than those in the chest or the brain.
Neurosurgery – brain, spinal cord, and nerves.
Plastic surgery – reconstructive or cosmetic operations.
Orthopedic surgery – locomotor system (bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments).

Other doctors focus on a particular area, system, or organ of the body. For example, a gastroenterologist diagnoses and treats problems involving the digestive system (esophagus, stomach, intestines), while a cardiologist focuses on the heart. More specialties of this type include:

Otolaryngology – also called otorhinolaryngology or ear, nose, and throat (ENT).
Urology – addresses the urinary tracts of men and women, as well as the reproductive system of males.
Dermatology – diseases of the skin.
Endocrinology – focuses on the endocrine system (including endocrine glands and hormones). An endocrinologist may treat individuals with diabetes, thyroid problems, and other diseases associated with hormone production.
Hematology – study of the blood, blood-forming organs, and blood diseases.
Hepatology – disorders of the liver.
Nephrology – focuses on the kidneys.
Pulmonology – conditions of the lungs.
Neurology – diagnosis and treatment of the nervous system.
Opthalmology – diseases of the eyes and other structures related to vision.
Gynecology – women’s reproductive medicine.
Psychiatry – diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses, including cognitive, perceptual, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

Miscellaneous specialties:
Oncology – diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Obstetrics – pregnancy and childbirth.
Radiology – imaging and diagnosis using radiation and magnetism.
Rheumatology – study of inflammatory diseases of the joints and other systems.
Anesthesiology – anesthesia during surgical procedures as well as pain management.

These may be modified as pediatric (children) or geriatric (older adults), as in pediatric anesthesiology or geriatric psychiatry.

Important prefixes and suffixes:

-- ology: the study of a topic.
-- ologist: a person who studies a topic.
Cardi – heart.
Dent – teeth.
Derm – skin.
Entero – intestine.
Gastr – stomach.
Gyn – woman.
Hemato – blood.
Hepato – liver.
Nephr – kidney.
Neur – nerve
Onco – tumor.
Opthalm – eye.
Orth – correct or straight.
Osteo – bone.
Oto – ear
Patho – disease.
Pedia – child.
Phleb – vein.
Physio – nature.
Podo – foot.
Pulmo – lung.

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