SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

23 Types of Doctors and What They Do

Medical school is a long process that really begins in your undergraduate years as a pre-med student. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, all aspiring physicians must go to medical school for four years, and then complete a one year internship and a three or four year residency. It’s a lot of work, and that’s not even including all the grueling applications!

Doctors choose their medical specialty in their third year of medical school. Many of us are familiar with some of the different types of doctors, since we’ve seen specialists for a variety of reasons, but may not be as familiar with what those specialists do.

In addition to choosing their field of practice, doctors can also specialize further after their residencies by proceeding with a fellowship. For example, a surgeon can further specialize in orthopedic surgery, or an oncologist can specialize in a certain type of cancer. While we don’t have every breakdown of every specialist, you can find a list of common types of doctors below, which can serve as a point of reference when researching your future specialty.


23 Types of Doctors

The medical field is growing fast as our population ages and grows at a rapid pace. Overall, jobs for physicians and surgeons are expected to increase by 13% by 2026, which is faster than the overall national average for all jobs. This list is in order of mean salary. Keep in mind that salaries and job growth projections are not exact.



Podiatrists are specialists in the feet and the lower limbs. They treat and manage pain and diseases, as well as injuries, to help keep people active and pain free. A lot of common issues are treatable by podiatrists, such as bunions. They can also help with ongoing issues or injuries.

Mean salary: $148,000

Job growth: 14% over 10 years (2014)


General Practitioner

A general practitioner is trained to provide healthcare to patients of any sex or age. General practitioners often work as primary care physicians (PCPs), see their patients regularly, and are familiar with their medical backgrounds. Most people do (or should) see a PCP at least once a year. When you suspect something else is going on, your first stop is a PCP since they're responsible for your overall care and well-being. They can then refer you to the right specialist.

Mean salary: $195,000

Job growth: 14% over 10 years (2016)


care-check-up-checking-1516648 (1)



A pediatrician is a doctor that specializes in childhood medicine, or those under 18. Some pediatricians will see their patients until they are 21. Pediatricians oversee the health and development of babies and children. They administer vaccines. keep track of a child's growth, and are the first contact when a child a sick.

Mean salary: $212,000

Job growth: 10% over 10 years (2014)



Endocrinologists specialize in glands and all the hormones they produce. Endocrinologists commonly treat diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, and reproductive health. You may see an endocrinologist for any of the above, and will usually be referred by your PCP if you report symptoms or have related discrepancies in your blood work. Some endocrinologists do focus specifically on one area of the body. For example, a reproductive endocrinologists focuses on the reproductive system, and people often work with these doctors when seeking fertility treatments.

Mean salary: $212,000

Job growth: 14% over 10 years (2014)



A neurologist focuses on the anatomy, functions, and disorders of the nerves and nervous systems. Neurologists work with people who have had strokes and those with degenerative diseases of the nervous system, like multiple sclerosis. If you exhibit loss of motor of cognitive function, you could be referred to a neurologist.

Mean salary: $244,000

Job growth: 14% over 10 years (2014)



A rheumatologist is a specialist in internal medicine of joints, muscles, and bones. Another specialist on our list, an orthopedist, also works with the joints, muscles, and bones, but a rheumatologist is unique because they focus on the origin of the problem, and the body's overall movement and health. Orthopedists tend to focus on more acute areas of pain and injury. We'll get into more about orthopedists later. One of the main reasons to see a rheumatologist is because of arthritis, but they also work with patients who have tendinitis, lupus, gout, and more, to manage chronic pain.

Mean salary: $257,000

Job growth: 15% over 10 years (2016)



Allergist/Immunologists are trained to treat allergies and disease of the immune system, such as asthma. If allergies can't be managed by over the counter medicines, you may see an allergist. You may also go to an allergist/immunologist if you need ongoing support managing an autoimmune disease, like Celiac disease.

Mean salary: $272,000

Job growth: 14.9% over 10 years (2014)



Psychiatrists focus exclusively on mental health. You may see a psychiatrist if you believe you have symptoms of mental illness. People usually seek out psychiatrists themselves, but some PCP's now are adding mental health screenings to yearly checkups, and may provide a referral. Psychiatrists can specialize in more than one mental illness, and can also specialize in treating substance abuse. Psychiatrists can informally specialize in specific age groups, though some informally prefer to work with different ages and on different illnesses as they gain experience with patients.

Mean salary: $273,000

Job growth: 11% over 10 years (2016)



Nephrology is a specialty that focuses on diseases of the kidneys. Nephrologists deal with failure and serious chronic conditions of the kidneys. If your PCP suspects you have a kidney specific disease, they will refer you to a nephrologist.

Mean salary: $294,000

Job growth: 15% over 10 years (2016)



An obstetrician/gynecologist, this title is commonly shortened to OB/GYN. Gynecologists specialize in diseases of the female reproductive organs, and obstetricians specialize in pregnancy and childbirth. Doctors often specialize in both so that they can help patients with a full range of reproductive medicine. Common reasons for visiting an OB/GYN are: you're seeking a contraceptive method, are experience irregular period symptoms or pelvic pain, or are seeking prenatal care. It's also recommended that patients with female reproductive organs have an exam by the OB/GYN once per year.

Mean salary: $300,000

Job growth: 16% over 10 years (2016)



Pulmonologists focus on the the respiratory organs — the lungs, airway and respiratory muscles. the A PCP will refer you to a pulmonologist if you have a respiratory infection or a chronic issue, like COPD or sleep apnea.

Mean salary: $312,000

Job growth: 18% over 10 years (2012)



A surgeon's primary function is to perform surgery. They analyze a patient's health and history, and create a surgical plan that prioritize the patient's safety and recovery. They also coordinate other staff that participates in surgery, and work with other physicians post-op.

You might see a surgeon for a variety of reasons. Surgeries are typically scheduled in advance, except emergency surgery. Surgeries can be major or minor, and have varying recovering times. Surgeons can specialize in many areas of medicine. Common specializations are cardiac surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, and emergency surgeons.

Mean Salary: $322,000

Note: Specialized surgeons have the potential to earn more than general surgeons

Job growth: 20% over 10 years (2014)




Emergency Physician

Emergency physicians are trained as physicians, and then go through additional training to master their skills in acute diagnosis in illness and injury. You will see an emergency physician if experiencing a medical emergency and in the emergency room in a hospital. Medical professionals assess a condition in order to determine the immediacy of a medical emergency, and then doctors diagnose, prescribe treatment, and decide whether or not a patient needs to be admitted to the hospital.

Mean salary: $350,000

Job growth: 14% over 10 years (2016)



An ophthalmologist is a type of eye doctor who is trained and certified to provide eye care and perform oral surgery. You would see an ophthalmologist if your PCP or optometrist suspects you have a more serious eye disease, or might need surgery. Some people choose to see ophthalmologists for annual eye exams as well.

Mean salary: $357,000

Job growth: 13% over 10 years (2016)



Oncologists are doctors that deal with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. You will see an oncologist if your usual doctor suspects you have cancer. Your oncologist will order tests, confirm, diagnose, and stage your cancer. They will also develop and oversee your treatment plan. Many other people will be involved in a cancer care team, but an oncologist is the leader of that team.

Oncologists have a wide range of specialties, and almost all of them further specialize once they complete their oncology training. Oncologists can specialize in most types of cancer.

Mean salary: $363,000

Job growth: 18% by 2022



A urologist specializes in function and treatment of the urinary system. If your PCP thinks thinks you have symptoms a urinary disease, such as excessive urinating, they will refer you to a urologist. Urologists often work with other doctors to treat illnesses; for example, a urologist may be involved in treating prostate of bladder cancer alongside an oncologist.

Mean salary: $373,000

Job growth: 15% over 10 years (2016)



Otolaryngologists are often referred to as ENTs, for Ear, Nose, and Throat. ENTs work with diseases of the ear, nose, and throat, hence the nickname. You may see an ENT for infections or for chronic issues like a deviated septum.

Mean salary: $383,000

Job growth: 14% over 10 years (2016)



Anesthesiologists are pain managers. They oversee pain medications, and administer them during surgeries; we mostly know anesthesiologists as the ones who "put us to sleep" for surgery, and administer a wide range of pain medicines. Though you're unlikely to see an anesthesiologist outside of the hospital, you'll work with one before and after surgery to make sure you're not in pain and your body is healthy overall. Some anesthesiologists do work with patients in the maintenance of chronic pain, and other specialize in different areas of medicine like pediatrics or obstetrics.

Mean salary: $386,000

Job growth: 15% over 10 years (2016)



A dermatologist is a doctor specializing in the skin. Dermatologists treat chronic and short-term, including cancer, psoriasis, and acne. A primary care doctor would refer you to a dermatologist if a skin condition was beyond the scope of their understanding, or needed more advances care.

Mean salary: $392,000

Job growth: 14% over 10 years (2014)



Radiologists specialize in diagnosing and treating illnesses using medical imaging. Radiologists work with MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, and PET scans. They can decide what tests to run, oversee the tests, and review them to make a diagnosis. Radiologists often work with other care providers; for example, if you came into the ER with a head injury, you would see an emergency doctor, a radiologist, and possible others depending on the diagnosis and extent of the injury.

Radiologists specialize in the types of diseases they diagnose, such as radiation oncology. They can also specialize in interventional or diagnostic radiology, and can help provide diagnoses and treatment plans depending on their specializations.

Mean salary: $401,000

Job growth: 18% over 10 years (2013)



A gastroenterologist is a doctor who manages the treatment of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and the liver. Persistent symptoms like stomach pain, heartburn, and diarrhea could send you to the gastroenterologist.

Mean salary: $408,000

Job growth: 18% over 10 years (2012)



Cardiologists treat and diagnose problems with the heart and blood vessels. Cardiologists focus on preventative care, while a cardiac surgeon is responsible for surgery.

Usually, a primary care physician will refer a patient to a cardiologist if the PCP suspects something isn’t right with the heart and cardiovascular system. The cardiologist can then run tests and decide on a treatment plan. Some sub-specialties include invasive or noninvasive cardiologists. Invasive means that they perform tests that are internal, while noninvasive cardiologists only perform tests that are external, like echocardiograms.

Mean salary: $423,000

Job growth: 20% over 10 years (2015)



Orthopedic doctors treat musculoskeletal problems. They often work with injuries like broken bones, torn ligaments, etc. Orthopedists can also treat chronic issues in the hips, back, and neck, as well as treat arthritis.

You’re the most likely to see an orthopedist if you’ve sustained an injury. Some injuries will heal on their own, but injuries that cause serious pain and greatly decreased mobility should be looked at by an orthopedist.

Mean salary: $497,000

Job Growth: 14% over 10 years (2016)




How to Choose a Medical Specialty

We've described the common types of doctors, but how do you pick the right one for you?


Understand Why Your Speciality Matters

Without a doubt, choosing a medical specialty is a huge decision, since there are many different types of doctors. You have to consider your interests, and what your goals will be once you’re a physician. Some students aim to specialize in an area where there is a lack of physicians, or work toward a specific cause.

Others want to specialize in something they’re interested in, and continue working in research spaces. Picking your specialization comes with a lot of pressure, since the intense and specific training makes it hard to switch if you change your mind. Luckily, there are resources available to help make this decision, and preparing in advance can help you make smart decisions for your medical career.


Explore Different Options

Most medical schools offer shadowing and internship programs. It might be helpful to even look into shadowing and interning when you’re pre-med, so you have time to try different things to see if you like them. Some students begin shadowing even as high schoolers.

Shadowing also helps you understand the culture among doctors within that field, what type of patients you’ll be seeing, and the potential mental and emotional toll. Some specializations deal more directly with vulnerable people and life and death situations, so you need to be prepared.


Consider Other Factors

It’s also important to consider the skill set you’ve developed when choosing what type of physician you wan to be. You may be very interested in cardiac surgery, but did better in courses related to urology. Since you’re going to be practicing your specialization for many years, you have to make sure you will find it rewarding and challenging.

You’ll also need to have at least one backup specialty in mind. Some fields are more competitive, and since the specialization process relies on matching, you may not get matched to your preferred specialty. It’s best to make sure you have at least two specialties that you’re very enthusiastic about and would be equally as happy receiving. 

Residencies are matched through an application process like a job, so you have to make sure that your resume is tailored to those specializations. It’s good to start thinking about it early on, so you can decide if it’s right for you and have time to build a strong application to that field.

Professors and doctors can help guide you. They might be able to see something you’ve missed, like that you’re great with kids, or that you were passionate about vaccination or immunology. Since they're already practicing and teaching, they're an integral part in helping you learn about the different types of physicians and where you see yourself. 

Becoming a doctor is a long journey, filled with difficult decisions that will impact your future. A lot of aspiring doctors have been thinking about becoming a doctor since they were young, and are ready to jump into the process full speed ahead. Remember, being a physician is not only important to you, but to your future patients. Make sure to trust your advisers and trust your gut when making these decisions, so that your career as a physician is everything you’ve dreamed of, and you know you’re doing your best work.


What's Next?

Thinking about becoming a doctor? Make sure you start early! Check out these 59 Great Medical Programs for High School Students and read about How to Prepare for Pre-Med in High School.

If you're looking at taking your next steps, check out this guide to The 11 Best Pre-Med Schools and our guide on what to expect from your pre-med program.

While you're at it, add to your reading list with The 7 Books Every Pre-Med Student should read.


Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!

About the Author

Carrie holds a Bachelors in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College, and is currently pursuing an MFA. She worked in book publishing for several years, and believes that books can open up new worlds. She loves reading, the outdoors, and learning about new things.

Get Free Guides to Boost Your SAT/ACT
100% Privacy. No spam ever.

Student and Parent Forum

Our new student and parent forum, at, allow you to interact with your peers and the PrepScholar staff. See how other students and parents are navigating high school, college, and the college admissions process. Ask questions; get answers.

Join the Conversation

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!