Physicians "prescribe and administer treatment for people suffering from injury or disease. Physicians examine patients, obtain medical histories, and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive health care" (Occupational Outlook Handbook, United States Department of Labor). There are four broad categories of medicine, described below:
(Allopathic; Osteopathic; Podiatric)
The three medical fields above are grouped together because they have several admission requirements in common and require the same entrance exam (the MCAT). They are doctoral postgraduate programs that involve four years of professional preparation.
Medicine in General
The fundamental decision to become a physician can be a difficult one. There are many
factors that impact that decision. Do you have the right personality to be a doctor?
Do you have the perseverance to complete the training? Do you have the ability to
get good grades? Are you a good test taker? Are you willing to make the necessary
sacrifices to get through medical school and residency? Do you have a strong desire
to help people?
A strong desire to help people is of primary importance, as is a general love of learning in general and a genuine intellectual curiosity. Other desirable characteristics include maturity, integrity, honesty, respect for the rights of others, critical thinking, problem solving, empathy, and the ability to handle stress and cope with adversity. It is also important to recognize your limitations. In order to choose a career in which you will be most happy, you need to objectively evaluate your skills and strengths as well as your priorities in life and not let other people’s expectations or thoughts dictate which path you take. It is essential that you spend a lot of time shadowing physicians and working in a health care setting such as a hospital to make an informed decision.
A career in medicine is a huge commitment that brings certain challenges. The cost of a medical education is continuing to rise and the median debt for someone right out of medical school can equal that of a home mortgage. Dealing with the constantly changing nature of health care, the concern about malpractice, and the toll on one’s personal life can be other challenges. Medical schools want to know that you understand what you are getting into and that you have taken all of these factors into consideration in making your commitment to medicine.
Further information is available in the Occupational Outlook Handbook produced by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Allopathic Medicine (M.D.)
Allopathic medicine, also known as conventional medicine, Western medicine, or mainstream medicine, is the system of medical practice that treats disease by the use of agents producing effects different from those of the disease being treated. The emphasis tends to be on treating symptoms and isolating a specific disorder.
Almost a third of practicing physicians are primary care physicians who work in family medicine, general practice, general internal medicine, and general pediatrics. Others are specialists in fields such as obstetrics/gynecology, psychiatry, various medical specialties (allergy and asthma, cardiology, dermatology, gastroenterology, neurology, and pulmonology), general surgery, various surgical specialists (colon and rectal surgery, neurosurgery, ophthalmology, orthopedics, otolaryngology, and plastic, thoracic, and urological surgery, support specialties (anesthesiology, pathology, radiology), emergency medicine and other clinical areas. Although most physicians provide direct patient care, some concentrate on basic or applied research, become teachers and/or administrators, or combine various elements of these activities.
Most medical students graduate after four years of medical school and enter residency programs of three to eight years for graduate training in a specific medical specialty. Training in family practice general internal medicine and general pediatrics takes three years; general surgery requires five years; and subspecialty training in such disciplines as plastic or neurological surgery may take another two or three years.
Osteopathic Medicine (D.O).
Osteopathic medicine was developed in 1874 by Andrew Taylor Still, M.D. as a result of his concern about the prevalence of questionable medical practices and treatments. He developed a method of treatment that emphasizes the musculoskeletal system and a concern for the patient as a complete entity. His new method, a departure from traditional medicine, was controversial with barriers remaining for the first half of the twentieth century. Today, most barriers between the two forms of medical practice no longer exist and there is full acceptance of osteopathic medicine by the pubic and by medical licensing boards. The major distinctions between the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) and a M.D. are that the D.O. receives additional specializes training in osteopathic principles and practices, including the diagnostic and treatment methods known as osteopathic manipulative medicine and the distinctive patient-centered philosophical approach. Osteopathic medicine emphasizes primary care with 65% of all osteopathic physicians practicing in one of the primary care areas of family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics or obstetrics and gynecology, which reflects the holistic approach.
Nearly one in five students at U.S. medical schools are training to be a D.O. and the numbers are increasing each year. D.O.s can be found in virtually all types of medical practice. The increased need for primary care physicians bodes well for the D.O. Osteopathic medical school consists of four years of professional education (typically two years of basic science and courses and two years of clinical training). The majority of clinical training consists of clinical clerkships where the student spends time in a clinical setting under the supervision of a licensed physician. After receiving the D.O., graduates may serve a 12-month internship after which they may begin the general practice of medicine. Graduates, however, may want to select a specialty and apply to a variety of M.D. or D.O. residency programs ranging from two to six additional years. Graduates may enter residency directly on graduation or following the one-year internship (may depend on state licensing regulations).
A key factor in gaining admittance to an osteopathic medical school is the applicants understanding of and desire to practice osteopathic medicine specifically. Students should make every effort to gain exposure to the field. Many osteopathic medical schools want a letter from a D.O. recommending an applicant. The number of osteopathic medical schools is less than one-fourth the number of allopathic medical colleges.
Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.)
Podiatric medicine is a branch of the medical sciences devoted to the student of human
movement, with the medical care of the foot and ankle as its primary focus. A Doctor
of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.) specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment
of foot disorders, diseases and injuries. Podiatrists work in general or group practices
and can develop a specialty such as pediatrics, geriatrics or sports medicine.
The D.P.M. is awarded after four years of study at one of eight accredited podiatric medical colleges. In addition to basic medical science coursework (often completed in the first two years), students of podiatric medicine also learn the fundamentals of specialized medicine, which include biomechanics, lower extremity anatomy, podiatric pathology, infectious diseases, orthopedics, and sports medicine courses. The last two years of studies focus on clinical science and patient care, however, clinical exposure begins as early as the first year. After completion of four years of podiatric medical education, graduates select a podiatric medicine and surgery residency of 24 to 36 months in duration. At least two years are required for board certification. D.P.M.s may also become certified on one or both specialty areas: primary medicine and orthopedics or surgery. The practice of podiatric medicine lends itself to flexible hours with most D.P.M.’s working between 30 to 60 hours a week.