31 10 2022

Do you know those magic tricks where the magician slides his hand into his pocket to retrieve a silk scarf and keeps pulling out a train of apparently unending scarves knotted end to end? When it comes to specialties and subspecialties in medical practice, it can seem that way. Although there are general practitioners, medical practice has evolved (and is still evolving) to have several branches so persons can receive the best possible care from a specialist when they develop complex disease conditions. So yes, Doctor Who? (or Doctor What?) is a valid question.

To aid understanding, the medical practice can be broadly divided into these 10 specialties:


Internal Medicine


Obstetrics and Gynaecology



Family Medicine



Community Medicine


It should be noted that each of these specialties have subspecialties. However, this post will briefly explore the broad categories. 


Internal medicine is a field of medical practice dedicated to the study, diagnosis, and management of diseases that affect the internal organs of adults. These diseases could be acute, chronic, or multisystemic, and often employs non-invasive management. The doctors that specialize in internal medicine are called Internists (not interns). Internists may further specialize in any of the following: Cardiology, Pulmonology, Gastroenterology, Rheumatology, Neurology, Infectious diseases, Dermatology, etc.


Internal medicine is to adults what Paediatrics is to children. This aspect of medicine deals with diseases of children aged 0 to 19 years; the age bracket may vary depending on the setting though. Doctors who specialize in pediatrics are called pediatricians. As with Internists, pediatricians can specialize in a chosen field.


Though often lumped together as a single specialty, Obstetrics and Gynaecology are two different fields of study. They both have a common denominator: women. While Obstetrics handles normal pregnancies or conditions affecting pregnant women, Gynaecology deals with diseases affecting the reproductive tract of women (who are not pregnant). A doctor in Obstetrics is called an Obstetrician, and one in Gynaecology is called a Gynaecologist.


This medical specialty handles diseases affecting men alone, but it is not as popular as its female counterpart. A doctor who specializes in Andrology is called an Andrologist.


Also known as Psychological medicine, Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that deals with mental disorders affecting humans. These disorders include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, dementia, Substance abuse, etc. A doctor who specializes in Psychiatry is called a Psychiatrist.


It is a tad paradoxical, but this branch of medicine touches all aspects of medicine on the surface level. It offers patients holistic care, especially when the health conditions are not complicated. Family physicians are commonly referred to as General practitioners.


While the aforementioned specialties seek to treat a disease, Pathology is more concerned with studying diseases with the aim of making a diagnosis. Subspecialties in Pathology include Histopathology (Morbid anatomy), Chemical pathology, Haematology, and Medical Microbiology.


This branch of medicine involves the use of radiation to diagnose, treat, and monitor disease conditions. It can also be used to monitor normal conditions like pregnancy. Common procedures in radiology include x-ray, ultrasound, Computerized Tomography scan (CT-scan), Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), etc. The doctor who specializes here is called a Radiologist (as against a Radiographer who is not a doctor).


This branch of medicine is dedicated to preventing the occurrence of diseases in the general community or curbing its spread if it has occurred. Thus they are concerned with vaccination, epidemics, epidemiology, etc. Community health physicians are suited to work in organizations such as WHO, UNICEF, CDC, etc. Community medicine also has subspecialties.


Unlike internal medicine, surgery makes use of invasive or minimally invasive techniques to investigate or treat anatomical abnormalities or injuries. A doctor who specializes in surgery is known as a surgeon and a surgeon can further specialize in subspecialties such as General surgery, Orthopaedic surgery, Plastic surgery, Neurosurgery, Cardiothoracic surgery, Paediatric surgery, etc.

Now you know the different kinds of doctors in medical practice. In subsequent posts, we will explore common and emerging subspecialties in the field.

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