Physicians are what most people refer to as doctors. They practice medicine and help patients maintain good health. Physicians care for people by performing physical examinations and tests, diagnosing illnesses, treating injuries and diseases, prescribing medication and providing patient education. Because of the changing needs of society and the continued advancement of modern medicine, physicians must be dedicated to lifelong learning to stay on top of their craft.
There are two types of physicians: doctors of medicine (MDs) and doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs). Both MDs and DOs receive the same basic education and training, but they differ on their approach to medicine. DOs believe in disease prevention and treating the whole patient, while MDs emphasize treating disease symptoms with drugs and surgery. There are significantly more MDs than DOs working in the United States.
Doctors are the leaders of the healthcare team. While they may refer patients to other health professionals for tests and services, they interpret results and make decisions on treatments. They oversee a staff of nurses, assistants and other healthcare providers. Physicians can work in private practice on their own or in a group or work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, medical schools and public health agencies. They work long hours and are needed around the clock.
Areas of Specialization
There are many different kinds of physicians. With 145 specialties and subspecialties of medicine that focus on different aspects of health, doctors have many career options. The major medical specialties are:
Physicians hold a doctorate and receive over a decade of training before they can practice medicine. This includes four years of undergraduate school, four years of medical school and at least three years of residency. In medical school, students spend the first two years in the classroom studying basic medical science and the last two years gaining clinical experience through rotations in different specialties. After med school, doctors choose a specialty and go into a residency program in that area, where they receive in-depth training in a hospital or clinic. Residencies can last three to five years, depending on the specialty. Upon completion of the residency requirement, physicians either apply for certification in their specialty or continue their training in a fellowship by studying a subspecialty for another two or three years.
Licensure and Certification
After one year of post-graduate training, physicians can obtain their medical license by passing a national licensing exam. However, they are not board-certified in their field of study until they complete their residency program and pass the specialty board exam.
Career Outlook Map of Iowa
The outlook for physicians is excellent. The job growth rate is 20%, but even that does not fully explain the need. Much of the state has been designated as a primary healthcare shortage area by the federal government, meaning there are not enough family doctors to serve the population.