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Definitions of Medical Specialties

Allergy & Immunology

An allergist-immunologist is trained in evaluation, physical and laboratory diagnosis, and management of disorders involving hypersensitive states of the immune system. Selected examples of such conditions include asthma, anaphylaxis, rhinitis, eczema, and adverse reactions to drugs, foods, and insect stings as well as immune deficiency diseases (both acquired and congenital), defects in host defense, and problems related to autoimmune disease, organ transplantation or malignancies of the immune system.


An anesthesiologist is trained to provide pain relief and maintenance, or restoration of a stable condition during and immediately following an operation, an obstetric, or diagnostic procedure. The anesthesiologist assesses the risk of the patient undergoing surgery and optimizes the patient's condition prior to, during, and after surgery. In addition to these management responsibilities, the anesthesiologist provides medical management and consultation in pain management and critical care medicine. Anesthesiologists diagnose and treat acute, long-standing, and cancer pain problems; diagnose and treat patients with critical illnesses or severe injuries; direct resuscitation in the care of patients with cardiac or respiratory emergencies, including the need for artificial ventilation; and supervise post-anesthesia recovery.


A health care professional who is trained to evaluate hearing loss and related disorders, including balance (vestibular) disorders and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and to rehabilitate individuals with hearing loss and related disorders. An audiologist uses a variety of tests and procedures to assess hearing and balance function and to fit and dispense hearing aids and other assistive devices for hearing.


A subspecialty of Internal Medicine that specializes in diseases of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels and manages complex cardiac conditions such as heart attacks and life-threatening, abnormal heartbeat rhythms.

  • Cardiac Electrophysiology: A field of special interest in the care of patients with any pathologic conditions, within the subspecialty of cardiology, that involves intricate technical procedures to evaluate heart rhythms and determine appropriate treatment. Examples include: treatment of complex arrhythmias and the implantation and use of pacemakers and defibrillators. An additional 1-2 years of specialized training is required.
  • Interventional Cardiology: An area of medicine within the subspecialty of cardiology, which uses specialized imaging and other diagnostic techniques to evaluate blood flow and pressure in the coronary arteries and chambers of the heart. Examples include: technical procedures and medications to treat abnormalities that impair the function of the heart.
  • Invasive Cardiology: A field of special interest within the subspecialty of cardiology that performs diagnostic procedures for which puncture, opening, or cutting of the skin is necessary.

Cardiovascular Surgery

A cardiovascular surgeon provides the operative, perioperative, and critical care of patients with pathologic conditions within the chest and disorders of the major blood vessels coming from the heart. Included is care of coronary artery disease, cancers of the lung, esophagus and chest wall, abnormalities of the trachea, abnormalities of the great vessels and heart valves, congenital abnormalities, tumors of the mediastinum, and diseases of the diaphragm. The management of the airway and injuries of the chest is within the scope of this specialty. Included in this expertise is the capability in the use of heart assist devices, management of abnormal heart rhythms and drainage of the chest cavity, respiratory support systems, endoscopy, and invasive and noninvasive diagnostic techniques.

  • Heart Surgery: The focus of this cardiovascular surgeon's practice is on the operative, perioperative, and critical care of patients with pathologic conditions involving the heart and its vessels and valves. Examples include: coronary artery bypass grafts (CABG) and aortic or mitral valve replacements.
  • Thoracic Surgery: The focus of this cardiovascular surgeon's practice is the operative, perioperative, and critical care of patients with any pathologic conditions within the chest. These conditions include congenital abnormalities, tumors, or cancers.
  • Vascular Surgery: The focus of this cardiovascular surgeon's practice is on the operative, perioperative, and critical care of patients with any pathologic condition of the major blood vessels coming from the heart.

Colon & Rectal Surgery

A colon and rectal surgeon is trained to diagnose and treat various diseases of the intestinal tract, colon, rectum, anal canal, and perianal area by medical and surgical means. This specialist also deals with other organs and tissues (such as the liver, urinary, and female reproductive system) involved with primary intestinal disease. Colon and rectal surgeons have the expertise to diagnose and manage anorectal conditions such as hemorrhoids, fissures (painful tears in the anal lining), abscesses and fistulae (infections located around the anus and rectum) in the office setting. They also treat problems of the intestine and colon as well as perform endoscopic procedures to evaluate and treat problems such as cancer, polyps (pre-cancerous growths), and inflammatory conditions.

Critical Care Medicine

A physician subspecialty (anesthesiologist, internist, pediatrician, OB/GYN, surgeon) who diagnoses, treats, and supports patients with multiple organ dysfunction. This specialist may have administrative responsibilities for intensive care units and may also facilitate and coordinate patient care among the primary physician, the critical care staff, and other specialists.


A dermatologist is trained to diagnose and treat pediatric and adult patients with benign and malignant disorders of the skin, mouth, external genitalia, hair and nails, as well as a number of sexually transmitted diseases. The dermatologist has had additional training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers, melanomas, moles, and other tumors of the skin, the management of contact dermatitis, and other allergic and non-allergic skin disorders, and in the recognition of the skin manifestations of systemic (including internal malignancy) and infectious diseases. Dermatologists have special training in dermatopathology and in the surgical techniques used in dermatology. They also have expertise in the management of cosmetic disorders of the skin such as hair loss, scars, and skin changes associated with aging.

Ear, Nose & Throat

See Otolaryngology

Emergency Medicine

An emergency physician focuses on the immediate decision-making and action necessary to prevent death or any further disability both in the pre-hospital setting, by directing emergency medical technicians, and in the emergency department. The emergency physician provides immediate recognition, evaluation, care, and stabilization of a generally diverse population of adult and pediatric patients.


A subspecialty of Internal Medicine that concentrates on disorders of the internal (endocrine) glands such as the thyroid and adrenal glands. This specialist also deals with disorders such as diabetes, metabolic and nutritional disorders, pituitary diseases, and menstrual and sexual problems.

Family Practice

A family physician is concerned with the total health care of the individual and the family, and is trained to diagnose and treat a wide variety of ailments in patients of all ages. The family physician receives a broad range of training that includes internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, and geriatrics. Special emphasis is placed on prevention and the primary care of entire families, utilizing consultations and community resources when appropriate.


A subspecialty of Internal Medicine that concentrates on diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the digestive organs including the stomach, bowels, liver, and gallbladder. This specialist treats conditions such as abdominal pain, ulcers, diarrhea, cancer, and jaundice and performs complex diagnostic and therapeutic procedures using endoscopes to see internal organs.

General Surgery

A general surgeon manages a broad spectrum of surgical conditions affecting almost any area of the body. The surgeon establishes the diagnosis and provides the preoperative, operative, and post-operative care to surgical patients. Additionally, the surgeon is usually responsible for the comprehensive management of the trauma victim and the critically ill surgical patient.

The surgeon uses a variety of diagnostic techniques for observing internal structures and may use specialized instruments during operative procedures. A general surgeon is expected to be familiar with the features of other surgical specialties in order to recognize problems in those areas and to know when to refer a patient to another specialist.


A specialist trained in diagnostic and therapeutic procedures for patients with genetically linked diseases. This specialist uses modern cytogenetic, radiologic, and biochemical testing to assist in specialized genetic counseling, implements needed therapeutic interventions, and provides prevention through prenatal diagnosis. A medical geneticist plans and coordinates large scale screening programs for inborn errors of metabolism, hemoglobinopathies, chromosome abnormalities, and neural tube defects.


A subspecialty of Internal Medicine or Family Practice with special knowledge of the aging process and special skills in the diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive, and rehabilitative aspects of illness in the elderly. This specialist cares for geriatric patients in the patient's home, the office, long-term care settings such as nursing homes, and the hospital.

Gynecologic Oncology

An obstetrician/gynecologist who provides consultation and comprehensive management of patients with gynecologic cancer, including those diagnostic and therapeutic procedures necessary for the total care of the patient with gynecologic cancer and resulting complications.


A gynecologist possesses special knowledge, skills, and professional capability in the medical and surgical care of the female reproductive system and associated disorders.

Hand Surgery

A subspecialty of Orthopedics, General Surgery, or Plastic Surgery. The hand surgeon is trained in the investigation, preservation and restoration by medical, surgical, and rehabilitative means of all structures of the upper extremity directly affecting the form and function of the hand and wrist.


Hematology is a subspecialty of Internal Medicine or Pathology with additional training that specializes in diseases of the blood, spleen, and lymph glands. This specialist treats conditions such as anemia, clotting disorders, sickle cell disease, hemophilia, leukemia, and lymphoma.

Oncology is a subspecialty of Internal Medicine that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of all types of cancer and other benign and malignant tumors. This specialist decides on and administers chemotherapy for malignancy, as well as consults with surgeons and radiotherapists on other treatments for cancer.


See Allergy & Immunology

Infectious Disease

A subspecialty of Internal Medicine that deals with infectious diseases of all types and in all organs. Conditions requiring selective use of antibiotics call for this special skill. This physician often diagnoses and treats AIDS patients and patients with unexplained fevers. Infectious disease specialists may also have expertise in preventive medicine and conditions associated with travel.

Internal Medicine

A personal physician who provides long-term, comprehensive care in the office and the hospital, managing both common and complex illness of adolescents, adults, and the elderly. Also called Internists, these physicians are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, infections, as well as diseases affecting the heart, blood, kidneys, joints, digestive, respiratory, and vascular systems. They are also trained in the essentials of primary care internal medicine, which incorporates an understanding of disease prevention, wellness, substance abuse, mental health, and effective treatment of common problems of the eyes, ears, skin, nervous system, and reproductive organs.

Licensed Clinical Social Work

A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) is trained in psychotherapy and helps individuals deal effectively with a variety of mental health and daily living problems to improve overall functioning. A social worker usually has a master's degree in social work (M.S.W.) and has studied sociology, growth and development, mental health theory and practice, human behavior/social environment, psychology, and research methods.

Licensed Professional Counseling

The giving of advice and assistance to individuals with educational or personal problems by counselors specifically licensed to provide counseling services. Often "Marriage & Family Therapy" is a specialty of these professionals.

Marriage & Family Therapy

Marriage and family therapy means applying psychotherapeutic and marital or family systems theories in the assessment, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of an individual, couple, or family.

Maternal Fetal Medicine

An obstetrician/gynecologist who cares for, or provides consultation on, patients with complications of pregnancy. This specialist has advanced knowledge of the obstetrical, medical, and surgical complications of pregnancy and their affect on both the mother and the fetus. He/she also possesses expertise in the most current diagnostic and treatment modalities used in the care of patients with complicated pregnancies.


An advanced practice nurse specializing in women's health care needs throughout life, including prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care of women through "normal" pregnancies.

Neonatal Medicine

A pediatrician who is the principal care provider for sick newborn infants. Clinical expertise is used for direct patient care and for consulting with obstetrical colleagues to plan for the care of mothers who have high-risk pregnancies.


A subspecialty of Internal Medicine that treats disorders of the kidney, high blood pressure, fluid and mineral balance, and dialysis of body wastes when the kidneys do not function. This specialist consults with surgeons about kidney transplantation.


A neurologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of all types of disease or impaired function of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, muscles, and autonomic nervous system, as well as the blood vessels that relate to these structures. A pediatric neurologist has special skills in the diagnosis and management of neurologic disorders of the neonatal period, infancy, early childhood, and adolescence.


The evaluation and treatment of tumors involving the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves comprise the field of neurooncology.


Neuroophthalmologists take care of visual problems that are related to the nervous system; that is, visual problems that do not come from the eyes themselves. Neuroophthalmology, a subspecialty of both neurology and ophthalmology, requires specialized training and expertise in problems of the eye, brain, nerves and muscles. Some of the common problems evaluated by neuroophthalmologists include: optic nerve problems (such as optic neuritis and ischemic optic neuropathy), visual field loss, unexplained visual loss, transient visual loss, visual disturbances, double vision, abnormal eye movements, thyroid eye disease, myasthenia gravis, unequal pupil size, and eyelid abnormalities.


A neurosurgeon provides operative and non-operative management of disorders of the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous systems. This includes their supporting structures and vascular supply; the evaluation and treatment of pathological processes, which modify function or activity of the nervous system; and the operative and non-operative management of pain. A neurosurgeon treats patients with disorders of the nervous system, brain, pituitary gland, spinal cord, and vertebral column including those which may require treatment by spinal fusion or instrumentation.

Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists or certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA) are licensed professional nurses who undergo extensive training, become nationally certified by exam after graduation, and then provide services similar to an anesthesiologist. Working closely with other healthcare professionals a CRNA takes care of a patient's anesthesia needs before, during, and after surgery or the delivery of a baby.

Nurse Midwife

See Midwifery

Obstetrics & Gynecology

An obstetrician/gynecologist possesses special knowledge, skills, and professional capability in the medical and surgical care of the female reproductive system and associated disorders. This physician serves as a consultant to other physicians and as a primary physician for women.

Occupational Therapy

A form of therapy that encourages and instructs manual activities for therapeutic or remedial purposes in mental and physical disorders.

Oculoplastic Surgery

Oculoplastic surgery is the cosmetic, corrective, and reconstructive surgery of the eye. It manages and repairs problems primarily related to the tissues or structures surrounding the eye rather than the eyeball itself. These structures include the eyelids, tear ducts, and orbit (bony socket surrounding the eye). Ophthalmic plastic surgeons are board certified ophthalmologists who have completed several years of additional, highly specialized training in plastic surgery.


See Hematology/Oncology


An ophthalmologist has the knowledge and professional skills needed to provide comprehensive eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are medically trained to diagnose, monitor, and medically or surgically treat all ocular and visual disorders. This includes problems affecting the eye and its component structures. In so doing, an ophthalmologist prescribes vision services, including glasses and contact lenses.

Ophthalmology - Retina Vitreous

The retina subspecialty of ophthalmology deals with a variety of diseases of the retina, vitreous (gel inside the back chamber of the eye) and choroid (layer which contains blood vessels and lies between the retina and the tough outer layer). Examples include: macular degeneration (gradual damage to the central sensitive portion of the retina), diabetic retinopathy (damage to the retina from abnormal sugar levels in the blood), retinal vascular diseases (diseases of the blood vessels in the retina), retinal detachment (separation of the retina from the underlying layer), retinitis pigmentosa and degenerative diseases, vitreous hemorrhage (bleeding into the back chamber), and choroidal hemorrhage (bleeding in between the retina and the outer layer of the eye).


A health care professional who is licensed to provide primary eye care services. An optometrist examines and diagnoses eye diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts, and retinal diseases. Optometrists also diagnose related systemic (body wide) conditions such as hypertension and diabetes that may affect the eyes; examines, diagnoses, and treats visual conditions such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia; and prescribes glasses, contact lenses, low vision rehabilitation and medications as well as performs minor surgical procedures such as the removal of foreign bodies. An optometrist is a Doctor of Optometry, an O.D. To become an optometrist, one must complete pre-professional undergraduate college education followed by 4 years of professional education in a college of optometry.

Oral-Maxillofacial Surgery

Oral and maxillofacial surgery is the specialty of dentistry that includes the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of diseases, injuries and defects involving both the functional and esthetic aspects of the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial regions.

Orthopedic Surgery

An orthopedic surgeon is trained in the preservation, investigation, and restoration of the form and function of the extremities, spine, and associated structures. An orthopedic surgeon is involved with the care of patients whose musculoskeletal problems include congenital deformities, trauma, infections, tumors, metabolic disturbances of the musculoskeletal system, deformities, injuries, and degenerative diseases in children and adults. An orthopedic surgeon is also concerned with primary and secondary muscular problems and the effects of central or peripheral nervous system lesions of the musculoskeletal system.


An otolaryngologist diagnoses and provides medical and/or surgical therapy for prevention of diseases, allergies, deformities, disorders, and injuries. Head and neck oncology, facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, and the treatment of disorders of hearing and voice are fundamental areas of expertise.

An otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon provides comprehensive medical and surgical care for patients with diseases and disorders that affect the ears, nose, throat, the respiratory and upper alimentary systems and related structures of the head and neck.

Pain Management

A subspecialty of Anesthesiology, Neurology or Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation that provides a high level of care for patients experiencing problems with acute, chronic and/or cancer pain in both hospital and ambulatory settings. Patient care needs may also be coordinated with other specialists.


A pathologist deals with the causes and nature of disease and contributes to diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of patients through knowledge gained in the laboratory. A pathologist uses information gathered from the microscopic examination of tissue specimens, cells, and body fluids. Additionally, the pathologist derives information from clinical laboratory tests performed on body fluids and secretions for the diagnosis, exclusion, and monitoring of disease.


A pediatrician is concerned with the physical, emotional, and social health of children from birth to young adulthood. Care encompasses a broad spectrum of health services ranging from preventive health care to the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic diseases. A pediatrician deals with biological, social, and environmental influences on the developing child.

Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

Physical medicine and rehabilitation, also referred to as rehabilitation medicine, is the medical specialty concerned with diagnosing, evaluating, and treating patients with physical disabilities. These disabilities may arise from conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system such as neck and back pain, sports injuries, or other painful conditions affecting the limbs. Alternatively, the disabilities may result from neurological trauma or disease such as spinal cord injury, head injury, or stroke.

A physician certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation is often called a physiatrist. The primary goal of the physiatrist is to achieve maximal restoration of physical, psychological, social, and vocational function through comprehensive rehabilitation. Pain management is often an important part of the role of the physiatrist. For diagnosis and evaluation. The physiatrist has expertise in the appropriate use of therapeutic exercise, prosthetics (artificial limbs), orthotics, and mechanical and electrical devices.

Physical Therapy

A branch of rehabilitative health that uses specially designed exercises and equipment to help patients regain or improve their physical abilities. Physical therapists work with many types of patients from infants born with musculoskeletal birth defects, to adults suffering from sciatica or the aftereffects of injury, to elderly post-stroke patients.

Plastic Surgery

A plastic surgeon deals with the repair, reconstruction, or replacement of physical defects of form or function. He/she uses aesthetic surgical principles not only to improve undesirable qualities of normal structures but in all reconstructive procedures as well. A plastic surgeon possesses special knowledge and skill in the design and surgery of grafts, flaps, free tissue transfer, and replantation.


A podiatrist is a physician that specializes in the evaluation and treatment of diseases of the foot. Podiatric Medicine includes studies in the basic medical sciences emphasizing the health and conditions affecting the lower extremities, their diagnosis and treatment, including surgery.

Psychiatric Registered Nurse

The psychiatric nurse practitioner is prepared, both academically and clinically, to provide a broad range of psychiatric health care services employing a "holistic" approach. Functions include performing diagnostic skills, therapeutic management, and promoting health activities.


A psychiatrist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, addictive, and emotional disorders The psychiatrist is able to understand the biologic, psychologic, and social components of illness and therefore is uniquely prepared to treat the whole person. A psychiatrist is qualified to order diagnostic laboratory tests and to prescribe medications; evaluate and treat psychologic and interpersonal problems; and to intervene with families who are coping with stress, crises, and other problems in living.


A professional specializing in diagnosing and treating diseases of the brain, emotional disturbances, and behavioral problems. Psychologists use talk therapy as treatment; you must see a psychiatrist or other medical doctor to be treated with medication. Psychologists may have a master's degree (MA) or doctorate (Ph.D) in psychology. They may also have other qualifications.


A subspecialty of Internal Medicine that treats diseases of the lungs and airways. The pulmonologist diagnoses and treats cancer, pneumonia, pleurisy, asthma, occupational diseases, bronchitis, sleep disorders, emphysema, and other complex disorders of the lungs.

Radiation Oncology

Radiation oncologists are specialists with training and experience in the treatment of cancer. They coordinate the care of cancer patients and, when needed, prescribe radiation and other anti-cancer drugs.


A radiologist utilizes radiologic methodologies to diagnose and treat disease. Physicians practicing in the field of radiology most often specialize in radiology, diagnostic radiology, radiation oncology, or radiological physics.

Reproductive Endocrinology

An obstetrician/gynecologist who is capable of managing complex problems relating to reproductive endocrinology and infertility.


A subspecialty of Internal Medicine that treats diseases of the joints, muscles, bones, and tendons. This specialist diagnoses and treats arthritis, back pain, muscle strains, common athletic injuries, and "collagen" diseases.

Speech & Language Therapy

Speech and language therapists diagnose and treat disorders of speech, voice and language, and problems with swallowing or feeding. If a total cure is not possible, they assist people to overcome or minimize the difficulties associated with these conditions and provide them with support. Although much of the work is with children people of all ages are treated. The problems patients have may be congenital, may be due to learning difficulties or special educational needs, or may have been caused by injury or by a medical condition like a degenerative illness such as Parkinson's disease or a stroke.

Sports Medicine

A subspecialty physician trained to be responsible for continuous care in the field of sports medicine, not only for the enhancement of health and fitness, but also for the prevention of injury and illness. A sports medicine physician must have knowledge and experience in the promotion of wellness and the prevention of injury. Knowledge about special areas of medicine such as exercise physiology, biomechanics, nutrition, psychology, physical rehabilitation, epidemiology, physical evaluation, injuries, and the role of exercise in promoting a healthy life style are essential to the practice of sports medicine. The sports medicine physician requires special education to provide knowledge to improve the health care of the individual engaged in physical exercise.


A urologist manages benign and malignant medical and surgical disorders of the genitourinary system and the renal gland. This specialist has comprehensive knowledge of endoscopic, percutaneous, and open surgery of congenital and acquired conditions of the urinary and reproductive systems.

Vascular Surgery

A surgeon with expertise in the management of surgical disorders of the blood vessels, excluding the intercranial vessels or the heart.

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