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Physician Career Profile

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Female doctor looking at laptop screen while preparing report at desk in clinic
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Overview:

A physician, or medical doctor, leads the medical team in caring for patients as the primary healthcare provider. A doctor diagnoses and treats diseases and conditions, as well as provides treatment in many forms including medication, procedures, surgery, or therapy. The physician shoulders the highest degree of responsibility of coordinating the patient’s medical treatment from beginning to end, analyzing the patient’s symptoms and conditions, and managing their care for the best results and recovery.
Some physicians provide general, ongoing preventative care, or management of basic chronic issues such as hypertension or diabetes. Other doctors are more specialized, and treat only certain systems of the body on a more in-depth basis.

Education:

Requirements vary based on the type of medicine a doctor would like to practice. However, all doctors must at least complete an undergraduate degree from a four-year college or university, plus four additional years of graduate school at an accredited medical school. Graduating from medical school is required for obtaining a Medical Doctorate degree (M.D.), or a Doctorate of Osteopathy degree (D.O.) based on the type of medical program you complete. Every medical school offers one of two approaches to medicine – Allopathic (M.D.) or Osteopathic (D.O.).

Training:

After Medical School, a physician attends a residency training program. A residency lasts anywhere from 3-5 years, and sometimes the first year of residency is referred to as an Internship. During residency, a physician obtains hands-on experience treating patients, while under close supervision of experienced physicians. Residents earn a small salary to cover basic living expenses. (Usually about $40,000 - $50,000 annually.) After residency, some specialists may attend an additional 1-3 years of Fellowship training.

Schedule and Typical Workday:

Schedules vary according to the type of medicine a physician practices. Most doctors work 50-60+ hours per week at least. A typical day in the life of a doctor usually includes 6-8 hours seeing patients in an office-based setting, plus 1-2 hours rounding on patients in the hospital. Surgeons will typically work 2-3 full days in the hospital Operating Room performing surgeries. Additionally, a physician will also invest time completing administrative duties such as updating patient records, returning phone calls, or handling miscellaneous office issues.

Salary / Compensation:

Contrary to popular belief, most physicians are not actually employees of hospitals or clinics. Many doctors are in private practice, either owning their own solo practice or in a partnership business arrangement with other physicians. Therefore, how much a physician actually earns depends on many factors such as patient volume, insurance carriers of the patients seen, and other issues we will explore more in-depth later.
Taking all of those factors into consideration, physicians can earn annual income of anywhere from about $120,000 - $175,000 for a Family Medicine physician, up to over $500,000 annually for specialists or subspecialists.

Skills Needed:

A physician is part investigator, part counselor, and part scientist. Doctors must have a very strong grasp of math and science, chemistry and biology, and be able to analyze information and solve problems. Additionally, most physicians should exhibit excellent interpersonal skills in order to communicate effectively with patients and their families.
Physicians must be able to think quickly on their feet, and make critical decisions accurately and efficiently. If a physician aims to go into private practice and own his or her own healthcare business, it would be helpful to have a basic understanding of business and accounting principles as well.

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