Physicians care for healthy people and for those who are ill or injured. They perform physical examinations and diagnose and treat illnesses, injuries, and other disorders. They prescribe and administer medications and treatments, provide immunization services, care for pregnant women and deliver babies, perform surgery, and conduct research to aid in disease control or the development of new treatments. The practice of medicine is evolving as the health care system changes. Managed care and health maintenance organizations (HMO) are creating an increased demand for primary care physicians who provide most health care needs for their patients and refer them to other specialists as needed. Primary care physicians may manage patient care and coordinate and direct the health care team.
Physicians may hold one of two degrees: the doctor of medicine (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.), Both M.D.s and D.O.s use accepted and approved methods to diagnose and treat disease. M.D.s are trained in the tradition of allopathic medicine which uses treatment actions proved to produce effects different from those of the disease. D.O.s are trained in osteopathic medicine which encompasses all phases of medicine including surgery. Osteopathy emphasizes the musculoskeletal system and manipulative therapy in treatment when appropriate. M.D.s and D.O.s may practice general medicine, one of the primary care specialties, or one of the other specialties related to a particular disease or body system. Both types of degrees are recognized and accepted by residency programs. Students of allopathic and osteopathic medicine receive the same basic educational training, and must meet the same Texas State Board of Medical Examiners licensing requirements.
Physicians must train for 11 or more years after high school before they are qualified to practice medicine. Individuals may apply for medical school after three years of college. Most, however, complete at least the bachelor's degree and some have graduate degrees. Prospective medical students may major in any subject area as long as they successfully complete required courses in math, and the sciences. Applicants must also take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Since admission to medical school is highly competitive, with more applicants than there are class positions, interested students should have high grade point averages and high MCAT scores. The state averages for admission in 2010 was a GPA of 3.7 and an MCAT of 30.
Medical schools are looking for applicants who can demonstrate high intellectual ability, have a strong record of academic achievement, can communicate with people, and are compassionate, motivated, and mature with a high degree of personal integrity. Individuals considering medicine should begin in high school by taking a wide range of science, math, and liberal arts courses. Good grades and participation in school organizations and volunteer work demonstrate the ability to manage time and set priorities, traits both colleges and medical schools look for in applicants.
Medical school consists of two years of basic medical science study (anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, physiology, ethics, and law). Students learn how to communicate with patients, take medical histories, perform physical exams, and recognize symptoms of illness. During the last two years of medical school, students apply their classroom knowledge to the art of patient care. They rotate through medical specialties and may take electives in areas of special interest.
In Texas, medical school graduates must serve a minimum one-year internship beyond medical school and successfully complete the exam given by the National Board of Medical Examiners, parts I and II, to be licensed for practice. Most medical graduates elect to pursue specialty training in residency programs. Residencies last from three to seven years beyond medical school, depending upon the specialty. Residency training programs are available in allergy and immunology, anesthesiology, colon and rectal surgery, dermatology, emergency medicine, family practice, internal medicine, medical genetics, neurological surgery, neurology, nuclear medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, ophthalmology, orthopedic surgery, otolaryngology, pathology, pediatrics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, plastic surgery, preventive medicine, psychiatry and neurology, radiology, radiation oncology, surgery, and urology. After completing the residency program and passing the specialty board exam, the physician may enter practice as a board-certified member of the medical specialty.
Subspecialties require that physicians complete two or more years of additional study, known as a fellowship, beyond the residency training. Completion of a fellowship prepares the physician to sit for the subspecialty board examination. The rapid changes in medicine demand that physicians make a lifelong commitment to learning. Continuing medical education (CME) programs, professional seminars, and reading in specialty journals are necessary for the physician to maintain skills and stay abreast of new developments in medicine and health care.
Related career opportunities within the general field of medicine include physician assistant and nurse-practitioner.
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