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Doctors Day is March 30: how many medical specialties have touched your life?

| Healthy You | Wellness | Aging Well

A smiling Black doctor leans on the counter of a nurses' station with a woman doctor

Think of key life milestones and which doctors were part of your memory.

Today, in their lifetime, an average American may see doctors from more than a handful of different specialties.

Part of your life story can be told in the providers who have cared for you through the years. From

  • the OB-GYN who cared for your mom and who delivered you as a baby.
  • the pediatrician who saw you through childhood.
  • a family medicine practitioner who provided care as you got older.
  • an emergency room doctor who patched you up after an accident.
  • a dermatologist who treated acne flare-ups in your teens.
  • an eye doctor who checked your vision.
  • a mental health counselor or psychiatrist who helps you navigate life.
  • an internal medicine provider who has partnered with you as an adult.
  • a geriatrician who specializes in conditions that come with age.

Lots of common specialties 

Most of us have also likely seen doctors from many other specialty types.

If you’ve had a joint replaced or some other surgery, your surgeon wasn’t the only one involved. You also got care from someone in anesthesiology and likely from physical or occupational therapists after the procedure.

And some of us can’t imagine life without these specialists:

If you’ve overcome a cancer diagnosis, you may feel grateful for doctors who have chosen to study and practice oncology. Or for your cardiologist if you have heart disease.

Usually we meet the providers who care for us — at least once. But there are also providers behind the scenes. Pathologists find out whether a tissue sample is cancerous or benign. Radiologists read X-rays and imaging studies to help other providers diagnose and treat things like broken bones, cancer or pregnancy concerns.

History of specialties

We can take for granted that there’s now a specialty for every age, life stage, body system and condition. But it has taken time to get here.

Over the past 200 years, doctors have been learning more and more about the human body, germs and other things that affect our health. It has meant using a scientific approach to look both broadly and deeply.

Practitioners needed ways to learn from and support each other as new discoveries were made. In 1847, the American Medical Association was formed to “create a healthier future for patients.”

In 1933, the American Board of Medical Specialties was founded to help practitioners in different specialties maintain high quality standards across several branches of medicine.

Unusual specialties

There are now more than 160 specialties and subspecialties in the U.S. Specialties may cover aspects of care for people in a certain age group or for people with certain types of conditions.

Subspecialties get more specific. Pediatric cardiology is the subspecialty that provides heart care for children. And geriatric psychiatry is mental health for older adults. Both are examples of subspecialties.

As we continue to learn new things through science, that list is likely to grow and change. Some specialties aren’t well-known because the population of patients is small. Others are somewhat new and reflect recent developments in medicine. Following are a few examples of specialties that aren’t as common as those noted above:

Same basic foundation

Even before choosing a specialty, all future doctors go through the same basic training to practice in the U.S. This includes completing high school, an undergraduate college degree (pre-med), medical school and residency. (Education requirements are different for nurse practitioners and physician assistants; however, these providers play a vital role in patient care today.)

It takes even more time in residencies and fellowships to become a surgeon or to practice in a subspecialty.

No matter what specialty they practice, doctors spend 14 to 20+ years getting ready to care for patients.  It is a calling that takes time, energy and considerable investment.

Appreciating medical providers

March 30 is National Doctors Day. It’s meant to help Americans recognize those individuals who have chosen to devote their lives to caring for us.

On Doctors Day — or any day — count the specialties you and your family have seen over the years. Does the number surprise you? Do medical providers show up in some of life’s milestones and memories?