Future physicians go to medical school after
they complete college. Medical students learn about many different areas of
medicine, including those designated as specialties.
At the end of medical school, doctors choose the specialty in which they will
have more education and eventually practice. Education in each specialty takes
three to seven years of a residency after medical
school. Some medical specialties have subspecialties that
require even more education and training. Since medical knowledge is so complex
and advanced, most doctors limit their practices to their area of specialization.
The September 3, 2003, issue of JAMA, a theme issue
on medical education, includes articles on medical specialties.
Family medicine (primary care of adults and children)
Internal medicine (primary care of adults)
Pediatrics (primary care of children)
Doctors who practice in the primary care specialties focus on general
care of the patient. They often coordinate the specialized care that a patient
may receive from different medical specialists. Primary care physicians usually
provide continuing care for patients over a long time. They are also concerned
with preventing diseases and medical problems.
Allergy and immunology (allergic diseases)
Anesthesiology (pain control and other care during surgery)
Cardiothoracic (heart and chest) surgery
Colon and rectal surgery
Dermatology (skin diseases)
Emergency medicine (emergency care)
Neurology (diseases of the nervous system)
Neurosurgery (surgery of brain and nervous system)
Nuclear medicine (use of nuclear materials in diagnosis and treatment)
Obstetrics and gynecology (female reproductive system including
prenatal and birth care)
Ophthalmology (eye diseases)
Orthopedic surgery (bones and joints)
Otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat)
Pathology (diagnosis of tissues and body fluids)
Physical medicine (rehabilitation)
Plastic surgery (skin and body surface)
Preventive medicine (public health and disease prevention)
Psychiatry (mental disorders)
Radiology (diagnosis using images; radiation therapy)
Urology (kidneys and urinary system)
Examples of subspecialties of internal medicine and pediatrics include cardiology (heart disease), nephrology (kidney diseases), and rheumatology (arthritis
and connective tissue diseases). Examples of surgical subspecialties include hand surgery and vascular (blood
Information on specialties can be obtained from the American Board of Medical Specialties, an organization that regulates
the development of specialties in medicine. This organization upholds the
standards that allow doctors to become board certified. When a doctor meets
all the requirements of a medical specialty board (a required level of education,
experience, and specialized testing of knowledge and skill), she or he is
called a diplomate of that specialty board. The doctor
is then allowed to state that she or he is board certified in that medical
specialty. A doctor's board certification can be verified through the American
Board of Medical Specialties.
American Board of Medical Specialties 847/491-9091http://www.abms.org
Council of Medical Specialty Societies 847/295-3456http://www.cmss.org
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page
link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish.
Sources: American Board of Medical Specialties, American Medical Association,
Council of Medical Specialty Societies
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate
in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For
specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied
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TOPIC: MEDICAL EDUCATION
Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Medical Specialties. JAMA. 2003;290(9):1268. doi:10.1001/jama.290.9.1135