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Physician and Surgeon Careers, Jobs and Employment Information

Physician and Surgeon Career Overview and Description

Physicians and surgeons play a crucial role in our communities. Not only do they diagnose and care for ill and injured patients, but they also direct the maintenance of our health by giving preventative healthcare methods.

D.O.s, or Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, and M.D.s, or Doctors of Medicine, are the different types of physicians. A D.O. differs from a M.D. because he focuses on holistic treatments, preventative medicine, and the musculoskeletal system. They often practice general pediatrics, general or family medicine, or general internal medicine. M.D.s practice an allopathic form of medicine. Both types of physicians use recognized forms of treatment such as surgery and drug therapy.

Areas of specialty for physicians include anesthesiology, family and general medicine, general internal medicine, general pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, and surgery.

Anesthesiologists provide patients with pain relief usually during surgery. They work alongside other physicians to ensure the best option of treatment for the patient is used. They must continually monitor the patient’s breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and all other vital signs throughout surgery.

A family and general practitioner, or the conventional family doctor, is usually the first physician a patient sees when they have a problem. These physicians can treat a number of illnesses and injuries, but refer patients to specialists if further care is needed. They maintain a patient base that comes in to see them when medical assistance is needed.

General internists treat problems with the digestive tract, kidneys, internal organs, stomach, and liver by using hospitalization or medication, but not surgery. They can function as a primary care physician, but often have patients referred to them. When further treatment is needed, such as surgery, general internists also refer patients to other specialized physicians.

General pediatricians give medical care to children ranging from birth through the teenage years. They monitor patients’ growth, treat problems and illnesses found commonly in children, administer immunizations, and treat minor injuries. Pediatricians sometimes specialize in areas such as chronic ailments, pediatric surgery, or in autoimmune disorders.

Obstetricians and gynecologists, or ob/gyns, provide healthcare specific to the female anatomy. They monitor the health and provide treatment for women and fetuses throughout pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum care. Ob/gyns specialize in treating hormonal disorders, pelvic and urinary tract disorders, breast and cervical cancer, and other problems related to the reproductive system.

Psychiatrists specialize in treating mental health. They evaluate patients’ conditions and provide treatment by using hospitalization, psychotherapy, medication, and psychoanalysis. Psychotherapy is when psychiatrists and patients hold scheduled discussions to help work through problems. Psychotherapy over long periods of time is called psychoanalysis. By talking about the patient’s problems, psychiatrists can help them change their behavior and find solutions to problems. Medications are often used to treat emotional issues by fixing chemical imbalances. Electroconvulsive therapy in used in rare cases when patients cannot use medicine and do not respond to therapy.

Surgeons perform operations on patients to correct deformities, to prevent conditions associated with disabling diseases, and to repair injured tissue and bones. During surgery, patients are typically given local or general anesthesia. Often surgeons specialize in an area such as orthopedic surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, neurological surgery, otolaryngology, or ophthalmology. Surgeons teach patients preventative health care in addition to diagnosing and treating problems.

Other specialized physicians include pathologists, cardiologists, radiologists, dermatologists, gastroenterologists, and emergency physicians. Physicians generally practice in private offices, clinics, or hospitals.

A large number of physicians practice in clinics or private practices. They are assisted by administrative employees and nurses. Many physicians are beginning to join healthcare organizations or groups because extra help is provided and they are often able to work fewer hours. Instead of working independently, these organizations allow physicians to work as a team to treat a vast patient base.

Anesthesiologists and surgeons work in surgical centers or hospitals. Their environment must be clean, sterile, and well-lit to safely perform surgeries.
Physicians generally work long hours. In 2002, over 30% of physicians reported working over sixty hours weekly. Most physicians are required to work on-call shifts where they take phone calls from patients and sometimes go into hospitals and nursing homes to examine and treat patients.

Physician and Surgeon Training and Job Qualifications

Physicians receive numerous years of education before beginning practice. A four year bachelor’s degree and four years in medical school are followed by residency and internship lasting between three and eight years. Different specialties require more years of residency and internship than others.
Courses in mathematics, organic and inorganic chemistry, humanities, physics, English, social sciences, and biology are taken during undergraduate study. Experience working or volunteering in medical environments is helpful.

Almost all students accepted into medical school have completed at least their bachelor’s degree. 126 of the medical schools in the U.S. offer the M.D., or Doctor of Medicine degree. The remaining twenty schools offer the D.O., or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree. Because acceptance into medical schools is so competitive, many aspects of each applicant are considered. College grades and transcripts, letters of recommendation, Medical College Admission Test scores, leadership skills, personality, extracurricular activities, character, and a personal interview are all factors considered for admission.

Students are trained to make diagnoses, examine patients, and record medical histories in the first two years of medical school. Courses in psychology, anatomy, laws governing medicine, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, biochemistry, microbiology, and medical ethics are also studied. Practical experience is given in the last two years of school where students work in clinics and hospitals with qualified physicians. They rotate working in pediatrics, internal medicine, psychiatry, family practice, surgery, and obstetrics and gynecology. Students learn how to provide chronic, acute, rehabilitative, and preventative care. Completing rotations provides them with experience working in a variety of specialties. It also allows students to see and decide if they want to specialize in a certain area.

Graduate education for physicians is called residency. A residency is paid training usually completed in a hospital following graduation from medical school. Residencies typically take two to six years to complete. A one year internship is usually finished prior to beginning residency.

To practice medicine in the U.S., a license must be obtained by attending an accredited medical school, finishing one to seven years of residency and internship, and passing a licensing examination. A U.S. medical residency and passing a licensing examination are required to practice medicine in the U.S. if medical school was completed in another country.

To practice in one of twenty-four specialized areas, board certification by the American Osteopathic Association or the American Board of Medical Specialists is necessary. This is obtained after completing up to seven years of residency and passing a final examination.

Becoming a physician is very expensive because of extensive education. Most students borrow money to pay for their schooling.

To become a physician, it is important to possess certain qualities: emotional stability, a desire to help others, hardworking, self-motivated, good decision making skills, etc. A love for learning is also important because continuing study is necessary to learn about the advancing medical field.

Physician and Surgeon Job and Employment Opportunities

Because healthcare services are growing, physician and surgeon employment will continue increasing at an average rate through 2012. The need for physician services will increase as the population continues to expand and age. Patients also require the most up-to-date therapies, technology, and tests available.
The demand for physician services is affected by many factors including legislation and a patient’s insurance coverage. When coverage is higher, patients usually take advantage of better medical care. Patient preferences also affect the demand for physician services. Other healthcare workers are lowering the demand for physicians as workers including nurses and physician assistants are gaining more responsibilities. Technology also is decreasing the number of physicians needed as they can contact patients and providers from various locations. Physicians are also able to accomplish more work due to computerization of billing, scheduling, medical records, test orders, and prescription orders.

Employment opportunities are high in areas that do not appeal to most physicians such as low-income and rural areas. In these areas, there is often isolation from other physicians and lower earnings. Shortages in certain specialized areas are attracting new medical students and causing schools to expand programs. Until these new students can practice medicine, physicians put off retirement, work longer hours, and delegate more responsibilities to healthcare workers to compensate for shortages.

The new physicians entering the field are accepting jobs in clinics, group practices, and with health networks. Fewer physicians are choosing self-employment and independent practice.

Historical Earnings Information

The average annual salary of physicians varies among different specialties of practice. In 2002, the Medical Group Management Association’s Physician Compensation and Production Survey gave the following results: family practitioners averaged $150,267; pediatricians averaged earnings of $152,690; physicians of internal medicine earned an average of $155,530; psychiatrists averaged $163,144; Ob/gyns averaged $233,061; general surgeons averaged $255,438; and anesthesiologists averaged the highest earnings of $306,964.

Earnings of self-employed physicians vary according to skill, number of years working, reputation, hours worked, personality, and geographic region of location. They typically have higher earnings than physicians working on salary; however, self-employed physicians pay for their own retirement and health insurance.