The healthcare industry has grown tremendously with the progress in medicine and other related areas.
Thats why we are going to have a look at why is it important to understand the different types of health professionals.
The explosion of knowledge and applications in the field of healthcare has warranted the creation of silos and specialization, resulting in various different types of health professionals with in-depth expertise in a narrow range of topics.
Today, medical care is not just limited to curing an injury or illness. It now covers prevention of illness, management of chronic conditions and delay of aging impact.
A large number of health professionals work in different healthcare areas and the number is growing constantly. These professionals have different education, license and skills to practise in the specific area.
You may need different types of practitioners and other health care workers during your life. While you may not come across every type of professional in the industry, it is important to know what they are and what they do.
Understanding various categories and subcategories of health professionals working at hospitals, public health institutions, health care centres and private clinics lets you identify who you should approach to treat a specific condition.
Knowing their roles also helps you choose the best combination of professionals for some health conditions to treat them well. Now that there are so many choices available, it is more important than ever to be informed.
After all, this information guides your choice to take care of your health and make the most of your money spent on health care services.
In this guide, we look at different types of health professionals and their roles to better understand who does what and who you should consult for what type of health service.
Doctor or General Practitioner
A GP or a local doctor is the main point of contact for most people for their health concerns. Doctors are the primary care providers. While there are different types of doctors, the one we call ‘doctor’ is a physician or general practitioner.
A physician studies medicine for years and acquires sufficient experience before practicing as a doctor. We approach them for first-level diagnoses of medical conditions and treatment of normal problems like flu, colds and injuries.
General practitioners work in different types of health services including private clinics and medical centres, hospitals and community health services. A GP is the best professional to maintain your overall health and wellness with medical scans and blood tests.
The primary care doctor can also give mental health advice and refer to medical specialists for conditions that need further attention. They also take care of vaccination and children's health. Some physicians specialize in areas like family practice.
Here are some of the more specialized primary care doctors available for different types of general health care.
Family practice physicians treat all the members in the family regardless of the age. They possess a broad medicine training that allows them to treat adults as well as children.
They are capable of treating a wide range of medical conditions and focus on disease prevention, taking care of the overall health.
An internal medicine physician is very similar to a family practice professional but treats only adults.
They can be trained in general medicine as well as specialities and can treat more serious medical problems in adults.
These doctors are specialized at treating children from birth to up to their young adulthood. These professionals are primary care physicians for kids and they are trained in vaccines, prevention of diseases in babies and children and treating common injuries and illnesses.
Paediatricians help diagnose various medical conditions in infants, babies, children and adolescents.
They perform regular checkups of kids for health and wellness. Some paediatricians specialize in critical care and work in critical care units in hospitals to treat children with critical health conditions.
Known as geriatricians, geriatric medicine doctors plan and coordinate the health care of elderly or disabled.
These professionals are primary care doctors who have specialized in preventative care of older adults, diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the elderly and the process and impact of aging.
Apart from doctors, geriatric medicine professionals include nurses, pharmacists, managers and caregivers who focus on the health care and other needs of the elderly.
These professionals are involved in improving their quality of life and maintaining independence as long as possible.
Sometimes your general practitioner may refer you to a specialist doctor for more specific health problems. Medical specialists are professionals who specialize in specific medicine areas.
A medical specialist becomes a part of your healthcare team if you are suffering from a long-term or chronic medical condition.
While general practice is also a specialization, your GP recommends a specialist for the condition that is affecting your health.
These specialists have acquired a degree in the specific medical discipline or area of health. Some of them undertake further training to become more specialized in the particular area.
Here are some of the most common medical specialists you can consult depending on your medical condition.
ENT - EARS, NOSE AND THROAT
An ENT specialist is a doctor who treats disorders and conditions affecting the inside and around of ears, nose and throat.
This type of health professionals is also called an otolaryngologist. Your general practitioner can refer you an ENT doctor if you need one.
ENT doctors generally treat patients with chronic conditions like balancing problems, hearing impairment or ringing in the ears. They are also trained at treating acute conditions such as ear infections and perform surgeries for ears and sinuses.
An ENT specialist can help you with problems in ears, neck, head, tonsils, sinuses, throat, mouth and surrounding areas. Some of these professionals can take additional training to specialize in small areas like nose and sinuses.
A dermatologist is a medicine specialist who focuses on the treatment of disorders and conditions affecting the skin, hair and nails. These professionals can help people treat conditions such as hair loss, acne, psoriasis, eczema and more.
Among other things, a dermatologist can perform an examination to check for any signs of skin cancer, perform surgeries for cancer and other reconstructive surgeries for scars.
Some dermatologists even offer cosmetic treatments like Botox injections, dermal fillers, laser hair removal and chemical peels.
You may see a dermatologist for a skin condition that needs more specific treatment than your GP can offer. You can also consult this specialist for annual skin checks if you have a family history of skin cancer.
A neurologist specializes in the brain and can diagnose and treat illnesses related to brain function such as Dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and others. This type of doctor treats conditions associated with the brain, spine and nerves.
People also consult a neurologist for conditions like migraine, stroke, multiple sclerosis, neuropathy, anxiety and depression.
A neurologist can analyze, diagnose and treat conditions affecting any of the body functions including your ability to walk and talk.
Those who have had a stroke often visit a neurologist for their recovery. They can treat pains, seizures as well as migraine headaches.
These types of health professionals are focused on treating disorders and ailments of the digestive system. Gastroenterologists treat problems in liver, pancreas, esophagus, stomach, colon, gallbladder and small intestine.
Gastroenterologists are also trained to perform various diagnostic procedures like colonoscopy, endoscopy and more. You can see them for ulcers, abdominal pain, jaundice, diarrhea or cancers in any part of the digestive system.
They are also called immunologists who focus on treatment and prevention of allergic conditions.
These health professionals are often consulted for different types of allergies like food allergies, insect sting allergies and immune system disorders like eczema and asthma.
Infectious Disease Doctor
This type of specialist doctors diagnose and treat different types of infections in any part of the body including tuberculosis, AIDS, HIV, fevers and more. They can help treat diseases and conditions which are contagious.
Infectious Diseases specialists treat bacterial infections, parasite infections, influenza and infections after surgeries.
These professionals provide diagnosis, prevention and treatment for female health problems. Gynecologists take care of female reproductive health, infertility, menopause, pregnancy, cancer prevention and diagnosis, delivery and breast care.
Most women see a gynaecologist throughout pregnancy and for delivery. You can also expect to see this type of doctor for regular tests and checkups like Pap tests and breast examination to detect early signs of cancer.
Ophthalmologists are specialists in eye and vision care. These professionals focus on the treatment of diseases involving eyes and can even perform eye-related surgeries. They also specialize in treating eye injuries and cancers.
People with complex eye conditions see this doctor for routine eye care. They can prescribe corrective glasses and treat diseases like glaucoma and cataracts.
These health professionals specialize in diseases of the cardiovascular system that comprises blood vessels and heart.
Cardiologists treat conditions like cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack, heart failure and others.
They can perform various tests and procedures associated with the diagnosis of heart problems. But they don’t perform heart surgeries.
Urologists are aimed at treating conditions related to the urinary tract in males and females.
These professionals can also help with male reproduction problems. Urologists often specialize in specific areas like male infertility or female urology.
These professionals focus on treating diseases of lungs and heart. Pulmonologists often work in hospitals to provide life support or ventilation. They also serve in clinics and hospitals to treat lung conditions, breathing problems and allergies.
A health professional who specializes in treating mental health problems, psychiatrists serve people through hospitalization, counselling, medication and other treatment options. Psychiatrists can be further specialized in specific areas like addiction or adolescent mental health.
You can see a psychiatrist if you are experiencing stress, fear, worry, anxiety, depression, memory problems, insomnia and other sleep related problems, out of control drug or alcohol use and more. A psychiatrist can treat childhood conditions like autism, anxiety and intellectual disability.
These specialists treat different types of cancers and the associated symptoms. The healthcare team for a person diagnosed with cancer consists of different types of healthcare professionals.
Oncologists often take specialized training in specific types of cancer, specific treatments, cancer-related symptoms and more.
A rheumatologist is a specialist doctor who diagnoses and treats rheumatic diseases. They are autoimmune conditions affecting joints, bones and muscles.
Some of the most common problems a rheumatologist can treat include gout, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, osteoarthritis and more.
These doctors diagnose and treat patients suffering from problems related to the musculoskeletal system and treat the effects of the problems on general health. Some chiropractors specifically deal with the spinal conditions.
A radiologist is a health professional specialized at diagnosis and treatment of various conditions using imaging tests. They can perform, read and interpret scans like MRIs, ultrasound, CT scans, X-rays and more.
Radiologists can be one of the three types – diagnostic, interventional and oncologists.
A nephrologist in the specialist who focuses on treating conditions affecting the kidneys and taking overall care of the organ.
These professionals can treat conditions like kidney stones, kidney failure, diabetes, hypertension, lupus and other kidney diseases.
Nephrologists are also trained in areas like dialysis and kidney transplants. They may also be specialized in internal medicine or paediatrics.
Specialized at treating different conditions and disorders affecting the endocrine system in the body, an endocrinologist should be consulted when you experience hormone-related health conditions.
The endocrine system is made up of different glands that create and release hormones inside the body.
Endocrinologists treat various conditions including thyroid, diabetes, infertility, hormonal imbalances, adrenal gland disorders and growth issues in kids. An endocrinologist is also trained in paediatrics or internal medicine.
A surgical practitioner is a healthcare professional specialized at planning and delivering services related to operation including preoperative care, surgery, anaesthetic and recovery functions.
Here are the primary types of surgical practitioners you can consider based on your operative requirements.
General surgeons can be consulted for any surgical procedure on body organs or systems. They can help treat a medical condition through surgical treatment.
They are trained in diseases involving gastrointestinal system, breast, abdomen, skin and endocrine system. A general surgeon is also responsible for health care before and after the surgery.
An orthopaedic surgeon is a health professional that specializes in conditions and ailments related to bones, ligaments, muscles, joints and tendons.
These surgeons can treat broken bones, arthritis, bone tumors, osteoporosis, sports injuries, back pain and other complications of bones and joints.
Specialized at heart surgeries, these surgeons work with cardiologists to identify the surgical requirements in patients. They are focused at helping people suffering from cardiovascular problems like heart attack, artery blockages and more.
Cardiac surgeons specialize at performing surgeries like placing stents in the heart and open heart surgeries. These professionals can help you when you are diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition that needs surgical treatment.
They are also called cosmetic surgeons and are specialized at repairing and rebuilding the face, skin or any part of the body. They are often approached for reconstructive surgeries to deal with deformations after injury or diseases.
These professionals focus on the patient’s care before, during and after the surgery. Their tasks include giving pain medicines, anaesthesia and relaxation medication. Anaesthesiologists also monitor the person during operation to make sure all the body functions are stable.
This type of surgical practitioner also studies the reactions of anaesthetic medicines. They are also responsible for administering these medicines to different patients on the basis of their needs. They also work with the patient after operation to keep their pain under control.
Oral Health Professionals
Oral health professionals like dentists are aimed at helping you treat and prevent problems related to your oral health including gum diseases and tooth cavities.
These professionals can not only detect issues with your gums and teeth but also diagnose problems in the mouth which indicate some other underlying conditions like heart disease.
Most dentists practice privately while others work in dental hospitals, public dentistry or other services. They are qualified in dental science or dental surgery and licensed to operate.
Registered nurses are not only found in hospitals. You can find trained nurses in doctor’s offices for various functions such as performing blood sugar tests, checking blood pressure and collecting blood.
Nurses often work closely with patients and their role is quite significant in the recovery phase. They take care of the patients and are always there when something goes wrong. They have different qualification levels, experiences and expertise.
Then there are advanced practice nurses who possess additional qualifications apart from the course of registered nurse.
These nurses work in numerous settings and perform a variety of jobs including preventative care and primary care.
Midwives are a type of APN who are responsible for normal childbirth cases under the instruction of a physician. There are certified midwives who perform a similar service at registered healthcare centres.
This type of health professionals study medicine for a long time and learn about medicines, chemicals, toxins, effects and side effects. They give medications to patients as prescribed by the doctors for specific medical conditions.
Pharmacists also advise on over-the-counter medication to help people treat certain medical conditions. They also work with the doctors about medicine combinations to avoid side effects in patients.
Allied Health Professionals
These health professionals are trained graduates who generally help people during their recovery phases after injuries, illnesses and surgeries. They are also responsible for managing chronic conditions and maintaining well-being.
Depending on the type of speciality, allied health professionals can be found in community health centres, hospitals and private clinics. Here are the most common subtypes of allied health professionals.
A dietician or nutritionist is trained to give advice about healthy eating. They are licensed health professionals who can assess, diagnose and treat problems related to nutrition and diet in an individual. They work at private clinics and community centres and can help sick as well as healthy people.
You can approach a dietician if you suffer from a chronic condition like cardiovascular disease, diabetes or blood pressure, you want to lose or gain weight, your child has some nutritional deficiency, you have some intolerance to food or you want advice on eating disorders.
A physical therapist is a licensed and trained health care professional focused at various types of services. They work with people of all ages and levels. They may be approached for a variety of situations.
A physiotherapist can help you more than once in your lifetime and for different conditions. They can help you get relief from pain, regain mobility, restore normal capabilities and cope with limb loss.
These professionals work with people of all ages from babies to adults and their job is to treat problems with communication. These doctors can be found at hospitals, schools, rehab centres, private clinics and community centres.
Speech pathologists can treat swallowing disorders, cognitive communication disorders, language and speech related problems in children as well as grown-ups.
These professionals work in clinics, hospitals and counselling centres and provide individual, group or family psychotherapy. They are also responsible for design and implementation of behaviour modification programs.
A podiatrist is specialized at diagnosing and treating various conditions of the leg, foot, ankle and surrounding areas.
They are trained to take care of these body parts. You can consult them for a wide range of conditions from diabetic infection to toenail fungus and bone loss.
If you are troubled by a condition affecting your feet, ankle or legs, your GP can refer you to these specialists. They can even perform surgeries and take reconstructive methods when necessary.
Complementary Medicine Practitioners
Alternative medicine or complementary medicine is often used by people to deal with chronic conditions.
It comprises vitamins, herbs, homeopathic products and therapies like acupuncture. Complementary medicine practitioners mostly work in private clinics.
Specialized at treating acute and chronic conditions through naturopathy, these doctors use vitamins, supplements, herbs and homeopathy medicines to help the body heal itself. They often advise on nutrition.
These professionals treat medical conditions by stimulating the pressure points in different parts of the body.
Acupuncturists often treat people by using finger or heat pressure or inserting tiny needles through the skin.