Doctor vs physician vs surgeon. What is the difference?

Doctor vs physician vs surgeon. What is the difference?

Doctor vs physician vs surgeon. What is the difference? This is one question that always puzzles many patients whenever they have to either go to a hospital or a medical center. There are a lot of healthcare providers who are given the title of doctor. Let me explain it all in detail.

What is a doctor?

A doctor is any person who has qualified a four to five-year formal education in either med school, dental school, podiatric school, pharmacy school, or other allied healthcare fields. The title doctor is also given to Ph.D. or doctoral graduates. This has caused so much trouble in the recognition of medical doctors. A lot of allied healthcare professionals are also given the same title as Dr. Many patients do not recognize the differences between the various fields and hence get confused. A nurse with a doctorate will also be given the title of Dr but is not a medical graduate and hence she will not have the same privileges to treat the patients similar to actual medical doctors. The term doctor was previously reserved only for medical graduates who qualified for med school. But now due to the ever-increasing list of courses that award the title of Dr. at the end of the study, an old school term “physician” is now being used to exclusively refer to medical doctors.

This has decreased the level of confusion among patients. If they are being treated by a physician they are aware that he or she will be a medical graduate and not a doctorate holder, who is also a healthcare worker.

What is a physician?

Physician is an old term used to refer to doctors. Physician basically means someone who is knowledgeable about how the human body works and functions. This term is now unambiguously used by all medical doctors to refer to their profession. As all medical doctors are aware of how the body functions they are happy to adopt this title.

This nomenclature has decreased the confusion although somewhat. Nowadays if you go to the hospital you will always hear the terms resident physician, and attending physician being used instead of the term doctor to refer to medical doctors.

Doctor vs physician vs surgeon. What is the difference?
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

What is a surgeon?

A surgeon is a doctor and a physician, who is trained to perform surgery. This can cause confusion as some surgeons use the title Dr. while others use physician and some also use Mr.

To simplify this consider the bulleted list below:

  • All doctors are not physicians
  • All physicians are doctors
  • All surgeons are physicians and doctors
  • All physicians are not surgeons

Many people get confused at all physicians are not surgeons part. But it is quite simple. Most physicians are not trained to do surgery. Examples include physicians such as oncologists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists. They may do procedures but they are not taught in the art of cutting a human up and fixing him.

Doctor vs physician vs surgeon. What is the difference?
Photo by Павел Сорокин

What kind of doctor is a physician?

A doctor who is awarded an MD is referred to as a physician. Physicians are doctors who mostly practice clinically. The term physician is used mostly in the clinical setting to differentiate the MDs from the DPMs and the PharmDs. All these degrees award the title of doctor to their graduates. So to avoid confusion, most MDs in the US use the title of Physician instead of Doctor.

Is a surgeon a physician?

Yes, all surgeons are physicians. All surgeons in the US use the title of “Physician” to differentiate themselves from all the other non-medical doctoral field graduates. Surgeons in the US also use the title of physician so as to not add to the confusion of the patient. Surgeons are qualified in performing surgery and they are also well aware of the functioning of the human body hence all surgeons are physicians as well as doctors both.

Should physicians be called Dr?

Yes, all physicians can be referred to as doctors and many physicians don’t mind being called doctors at all. Doctor of Medicine (MD) awarded to doctors gives all medical graduates the title of doctor. Those who then go on to clear the boards and then enroll in clinical fields are then referred to as physicians.

If you are considering a career in medicine. I would urge you to check out Living medicine by Cambridge university press. It can help you narrow down the path you should take, among the many you are being offered. The path which is right for you. I have linked it here if you want to check it out.

Find more articles similar to “Doctor vs physician vs surgeon. What is the difference?” here. You can also check out our article “Can doctors write prescriptions for themselves?here.

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