General Health

What is the difference between a doctor and a physician?

“If the symptoms persist, consult your doctor immediately,” you may have seen these lines plastered across medicines, health advice columns, and even commercials. At some point, you may have also used the terms doctor or physician interchangeably.

For this reason, it may appear that there is no real difference between doctor and physician. And if they’re all the same, why is there a need to highlight the difference between them? It appears counterintuitive and defeats the purpose of this entire post, doesn’t it?

Well, you will be surprised!
It turns out that there is a vast difference between the two professions, which starts right from their educational qualification to their field of work.

If you are struggling to find out what is the difference between a doctor and a physician, then this post is just for you! And before you create your profile to tap into the job search network for doctors, let’s explore how a doctor is different from a physician and vice versa.

Physician vs. Doctor: What’s the Difference?

In this physician vs doctor comparison, we will follow a nuanced approach that starts with formally defining the term, listing their educational qualifications, offering an overview of their occupation, and highlighting the differences between them.

Who is a Doctor?

A doctoral degree is the highest level of formal education an individual can acquire in any field or profession. And a doctor is the person who has earned this doctorate degree.

This doctorate program may have a different name depending on the field. For instance, in research and development, it is called Doctor of Philosophy or Ph.D. Similarly, in the field of education, it is the Doctor of Education (EdD), and so on!

Thus, anyone who possesses the requisite skill and experience in a certain field can earn the title of a doctor after completing the doctoral course. As a result, you can have doctors in the field of:

  • Fine Arts
  • Engineering
  • Theology
  • Public Health
  • Public Administration
  • Veterinary Medicine
  • Applied Sciences
  • Law and Jurisprudence

Of course, the doctorate in question could also relate to the field of medicine and medical sciences—for example, a Doctor of Medicine (MD). You may even come across scholars having a Ph.D. in Medicine, Dentistry, Physiology, Forensic Medicine, etc. These individuals are also doctors, with a specialization in their respective fields of medicine. However, that does not mean that they may be actively practicing as physicians.

Who is a Physician?

So far, one of the most glaring differences between doctor and physician may become obvious – not all doctors are physicians. However, all physicians are doctors.

“Doctor” is more like an umbrella term, while a physician is more niche. The term physician only corresponds to an individual who possesses a medical doctorate degree. Therefore, any individual who possesses a medical degree, from link verified doctors having basic graduation to super specialization, is a physician. It includes:

  • General practitioners
  • Primary care physicians
  • Pediatrician
  • Dermatologist
  • Surgeon
  • Hospitalist, etc.

Physicians are primarily responsible for diagnosing patients, offering medical care and treatment for illnesses and injuries, prescribing medication, attending to emergency medical cases, providing first aid, and sharing advice and insights into healthy living. Hence, in addition to the theoretical knowledge of the basic bodily functions, they must also undergo extensive training as well as get a license to practice and administer medicine.
Additionally, given the vast functions and organs of the human body, physicians may acquire specialization to focus on a specific aspect. For example, you have an Oncologist, a physician who specializes in treating cancer and providing medical care to cancer patients. In this area, too, oncologists could diversify as surgeons who remove tumors and specialists who conduct a biopsy on cells and tissues. Such specialization ensures that patients receive the utmost and most effective medical aid for their condition, no matter how unique the condition may be.

What is the Difference Between a Doctor and a Physician?

To reiterate the major difference between doctor and physician: All physicians are doctors. However, not all doctors are physicians.

The differences between the two get more complicated as one studies it further. However, to make the differentiation simpler, let’s break it down into four major sections:
Historians believe that the origins of physicians date back to 25,000 BC, where cave paintings in France depict the healers using plants for medicinal purposes. Around the same time, there is evidence of trepanation, the medical practice of puncturing the skull to relieve pain. Ancient Indian, Chinese, and Egyptian civilizations formulated medical practices that are followed to this day!

In contrast, doctors are fairly new as the first Doctorate Degree was awarded in the 12th century in Paris, France. Back in those days, these Doctorate Degrees were only presented to highly learned and esteemed individuals in the field of medicine, law, and theology.

It takes an average of eight years to earn a Doctorate.
On the other hand, physicians need four years in the undergraduate program followed by four years of medical school and 3 to 6 years in a residency program to gain recognition. Additionally, they may also have to undergo periodic recertification.

Educational Qualification

To acquire a Doctorate Degree, one must first possess a Bachelor’s Degree followed by a Master’s Degree from an accredited university or college. While the latter may be optional in some cases, the candidate must at least complete their graduation to qualify for a doctoral degree.

Physicians must first complete their undergraduate and postgraduate courses from an accredited college or university, followed by medical training before they start practicing. From this jumping-off point, they may opt for any kind of specialization depending on their interests.

Area of Work
A doctor can work in myriad fields depending on their subject of the Doctorate Degree. Physicians primarily operate in the area of medicine and medical sciences.

Is a Doctor a Physician? And Who Should Patients Go To?

It must have become apparent by now that doctors and physicians are not the same.
Hence, the answer to the question “is a doctor a physician?” is no.
While doctors, of all kinds, have achieved the highest form of education and training, physicians are suited to attend to patients.
This concludes our physician vs doctor debate, and now you know what is the difference between a doctor and a physician!

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