Medicine: Specialties (Branches), Degree Courses, and Academic Titles of Doctors

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Medicine is a field of study that studies the management of diseases affecting humans using scientific methods.

Medicine as a word can also refer to a drug. This means, some people may use the word Medicine as a drug; such as I have not taken my medicine today. To avoid confusion, it is better to use the words: drugsmedication or chemotherapy to refer to drugs than using Medicine.

Medicine can also refer to the course of study at the University for the award of the degree: MBBS; the use of Medicine in this article is referring to Medicine as a field of specialty (that does not use surgery for treatment and is less invasive) in Medical practice which differ from the specialty of Surgery. The type of Medicine referred in this article is usually called Internal Medicine.

What is Medicine?

Medicine is the Science and Art of the treatment of diseases and prevention of occurrence of diseases. Medicine has so many branches or areas of specialty and in turn, each specialty or branch of medicine has a sub-specialty. These branches of medicine are so in order to allow specialization for the doctor to be able to focus his or her energy on one aspect rather than having a shallow general which may not be beneficial in the treatment of patients due to the complexity of the parts of the human body.

Medicine is a science, in that it uses scientific principles to treat diseases and medicine is also an art because it requires apprenticeship to learn the practical aspect. Without learning from clinical activities, the knowledge of reading books alone will not help much in medical practice.

Medicine treats diseases with little or no invasive procedures done, whereas surgery largely requires invasive procedure to be performed in order to treat diseases.

Specialties of Medicine

The specialties of Medicine include:

  1. Internal Medicine
  2. Paediatrics
  3. Gynecology
  4. Obstetrics
  5. Andrology
  6. Psychiatry
  7. Family Medicine
  8. Pathology
  9. Radiology
  10. Community Medicine

Each of these branches of Medicine has subspecialties which are listed below.

Structure of the Heart, Lungs and Trachea with Pulmonary vessels
Structure of the Heart, Lungs and Trachea with Pulmonary vessels


Subspecialties of Branches of Medicine

Internal Medicine

In internal medicine, you have the following subspecialties

  1. Gastroenterology: This refers to the study of the digestive system and its related organs such as the Liver and spleen. The Gastroenterologist studies diseases and treatment that borders around the Mouth, the esophagus, the stomach, the large and small intestines including the liver and spleen. Anything that affects the digestion of food is important to the Gastroenterologist. This aspect of medicine manage diseases with symptoms and signs such as jaundice, vomiting (bloody or non-bloody), diarrhea, constipation, intussusception, diverticula of the Gastrointestinal tract, gastric ulcer and many more.
    A doctor that specializes in gastroenterology is called a Gastroenterologist.
  2. Infectious diseases: This is the aspect of Medicine that deals with diseases that can spread from one person to another. These infectious diseases include: HIV/AIDS, Measles, Tuberculosis and others. Their aspect of study may encompass infectious diseases that affect other parts of the human body.
  3. Dermatology: This aspect of medicine studies the skin and its appendages (related parts such as the hair and nails). They deal with diseases such as Malassezia, acne, Tinea capitis, and treatment of skin reactions and allergies. A doctor that specializes in dermatology is called a Dermatologist.
  4. Neurology: This is the Nervous System aspect of Medicine where diseases such as paralysis, myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis and others are treated. A doctor of Neurology is called a Neurologist.
  5. Endocrinology: this aspect of Medicine deals with diseases affecting the hormone producing organs such as the thyroid gland, the adrenal, parathyroid, pituitary, pancreas and many others. It treats and manages diseases such as Diabetes mellitus, Cushings disease, Cushing syndrome, Galactorrhea and many more. An Endocrinologist is a doctor who has had a professional training in endocrinology.
  6. Pulmonology: This is the study of the pulmonary system; it manages diseases affecting the respiratory system such as Asthma, Bronchitis, Bronchiolitis, Hydrothorax, Pneumothorax and others. A doctor of Pulmonology is called a Pulmonologist.
  7. Cardiology: A specialty of medicine that deals with the heart and the blood vessels. It manages congenital and acquired heart diseases, heart failure, heart attack, thrombosis, hypertension and other related cardiovascular diseases. A doctor who specializes in cardiology is called a Cardiologist.
  8. Nephrology: an aspect of medicine that borders on the diseases affecting the kidneys, the ureters, urinary bladder and urethra. Together, these organs are called the Genitourinary system of the body. A doctor who specializes in Nephrology is called a Nephrologist.
  9. Oncology: the study of tumors (whether malignant or benign tumors). It could be tumor affecting any of the organs of any of the listed subspecialties above. A doctor who specializes in Oncology is called an Oncologist.

Paediatric Medicine

This is the aspect of medicine that deals with children of age 0 19 years. It manages diseases that pertains to children. Among all the subspecialties mentioned under Internal medicine above, Paediatricians can decide to specialize in any of the subspecialty such as paediatric endocrinology, paediatric cardiology, paediatric oncology and many more. A doctor who specializes in Paediatric medicine is called a Paediatrician.


Gynecology is the study of the management of diseases affecting Women. It involves other fields of medicine earlier mentioned above such as Oncology, Endocrinology, Infertility, and all other branches of medicine but only in relationship to the health of Women. A doctor who specializes in Gynecology is called a Gynecologist.

Obstetric Medicine

Just like gynecology, Obstetric medicine deals with any disease that affects pregnant women alone. This time, it is not women but pregnant women. Gynecology and Obstetrics are often seen as one branch of medicine but in practice, they are two different fields of study. A doctor who specializes in Obstetric medicine is called an Obstetrician.


This is a branch of medicine that deals with diseases affecting Men alone. This aspect of Medicine is not common because diseases affecting men can easily be managed by other specialist in Internal Medicine and do not require special attention as Women and Pregnant women. A doctor who specializes in Andrology is called an Andrologist


Psychiatry is a branch of Medicine that deals with mental abnormalities or disorders affecting humans. It deals with diseases such as Mania, Depression, Schizophrenia, Substance abuse, Amnesia, and anything that affects the perception of normal occurrences around us, our orientation to time, place, person and judgment. It is the beautiful branch of medicine that can explain why people act the way they do as written by Tim Lahaye.

A doctor who specializes in Psychiatry is called a Psychiatrist.

Family Medicine

Family medicine borders around general medicine without specific knowledge just one but wholistic knowledge on all aspects of medicine. Family medicine is just like a Jack of all trade but master of none. This may sound derogatory but it is not. Family medicine doctors are specialist too in their own field, but they study almost every aspect of medicine just as it is done while still in medical school as a student. This study of different aspects of medicine gives family medicine doctors an idea about how diseases present in different organs. It makes them to be able to treat minor cases and for the ones that require a specialist, they are the doctors that give a referral to a specialist because the patient may not know what organ is involved and what specialist to meet. Therefore, the Family medicine doctors are the ones commonly referred to as General Practitioners or general physicians of Family doctors of Family physicians.

Family medicine as its name implies also manages cases affecting the family such as family planning and many others.


Pathology is a specialize branch of medicine that tends to be different in that, it studies abnormalities, disorders and diseases without treating them but purely to diagnose the diseases. It is just like the Medical laboratory science of medicine. Pathology tells you how cells react to injury, how a disease starts and how it continues and how it ends. It shows how cancerous cells start and how they progress. This is different from other aspects of medicine in that, other aspects seek to treat the patient but pathology seeks to find why diseases behave the way they do and also helps to classify whether a cell, organ or tissue is normal or cancerous. Pathologists help other doctors in treating patients by giving the definitive diagnosis of the disease before the doctors proceed with definitive treatment.

Pathology is divided into:

  1. Histopathology: this aspect deals with structure and function of cells, tissues and organs. A doctor who specializes in Histopathology is called a Histopathologist.
  2. Chemical Pathology: studies the derangement of electrolytes, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and other chemical compounds in the body such as glucose, vitamins, zinc, iron and many more. Chemical pathologies give diagnosis by analyzing chemical compounds derangements and how they affect health. A doctor who specializes in Chemical pathology is called a Chemical pathologist.
  3. Haematology: the aspect of pathology that deals with abnormalities or disorders of the blood and related systems such as bone marrow that can affect blood production, distribution, function and destruction. It manages disease conditions such as Sickle cell anaemia, Leukemia, bone marrow suppression etc. A doctor who specializes in Haematology is called a Haematologist.
  4. Medical Microbiology: studies how microscopic organisms can cause disease and how to diagnose the organisms with the related diseases they cause. It studies organism such as Virus, Bacteria, Fungi, etc. A doctor who specializes in Medical Microbiology is called a Medical Microbiologist and not just Microbiologist which refers to the scientist who studied microbiology.


Radiology is the use of radiations for diagnosis, therapy and monitoring of disease conditions. In addition to these radiations, other things such as sound waves and magnetic waves are also used. Common procedures in radiology include use of x-rays, ultrasonography and magnetic resonance imaging and Computed tomography. Radiology can be used to date pregnancy, view fractures, view foreign bodies and monitor growth of tumors. A doctor who specializes in Radiology is called a Radiologist.

Community Medicine

This is also known as Community Health or Public Health. It is the aspect of medicine that primarily seeks to prevent the occurrence of diseases; it is concerned about the health of a group of people especially during outbreaks rather than a single person at a time. It is also the branch of medicine concerned with curtailing disease outbreaks, epidemics or vaccination of children and adults among populations. The focus of Community medicine is to protect the general community against diseases. A doctor who specializes in Community medicine is called a Medical officer of health, a Chief Medical Officer or even Surgeon General depending on his or her level of jurisdiction.

The community medicine doctors are the ones seen at the airports, sea ports, and land borders that help in quarantine and regulation of health across borders in order to prevent the importation or exportation of diseases to other countries. They fit working with World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF etc.

Who can Study Medicine?

Anyone can study medicine. But studying medicine requires that you are sure of what you do to a patient as any mistake or error could lead to loss of life or increase complication. This is why one of the ethics of medicine states: first do no harm which reads in latin as Primum non nocere.

For you to become a good and successful medical doctor, you have to learn the ethics of medicine and also value life of others.

You also have to be patient and tolerant as you will be meeting patients with different behaviours and you must treat their illnesses.

Who is a Doctor?

Anyone that studied medicine and surgery is called a Medical Doctor. A medical doctor is different from an academic doctor who is correctly called doctor of philosophy (Ph.D). A Medical doctors title can be written as Dr Doctor or MD- Doctor of Medicine, whichever one suits you. There are other titles used by doctors depending on their level of specialty and also their awards which are listed below.

A medical doctor will have to go through Medical school as a student and study the various Medical courses and related courses in order to learn the basic sciences and medical sciences. After that, the medical student will have to learn the clinical skills of management of diseases before being awarded the certificate to become a Medical Doctor after series of Medical Examinations for the award of the degree: M.B.B S (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery).

An MBBS certificate is just the basic certificate for starting practice as a Medical doctor. It does not mean that you have become a specialist but rather that you are qualified as a doctor to handle and manage basic diseases. For you to qualify as a specialist in the specialties mentioned above, you have to go through the post graduate school of Medicine programme which is commonly referred to as Residency. Residency helps you to specialize in one aspect of medicine and throughout this period of Post graduate school, you will write several post graduate medical examinations that will enable you to become a Specialist in your preferred area of choice. No one will force you through any specialty; it is entirely a choice that is made by you at the beginning of the post graduate medical school as to where you would love to specialize.

Once you have become a specialist in one area of medicine, you cannot just change to another specialty again. If you would like to change to another specialty, it means you have to start all over to study the new specialty in the post graduate medical school again and go through the required number of years and also write the required post graduate medical examinations in order to change another specialty. It is therefore advisable that before you start the post graduate medical school, you should be sure that you love the specialty you have chosen and that you can be able to go through the training.

Clinical Medicine and Non-clinical medicine

Medicine can be group into clinical medicine and non-clinical medicine based on the nature of practice. The practice of medicine in a clinical setting is therefore known as Clinical Medicine. A clinical setting can be a clinic, hospital, or anywhere that management of disease is carried out in order to improve and treat a patient.

Non-clinical medicine deals with any practice of medicine that is not directly in management of the diseases of patients. Non-clinical medicine can be teaching, research, administration of a health facility, etc.

Academic Doctors degrees and Titles

  1. MBBS means Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae in Latin (which is translated to Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery in English). It is a university degree awarded by many countries that follow the format of the United Kingdom. The equivalent of this in USA is MD (Doctor of Medicine) degree.
  2. Dr. means Doctor. It is a title given to any medical doctor who has been registered by the medical council of the country. It is often used by non-medical fields of study to stand for Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) or Honorary doctorate degree.
  3. MD stands for Doctor of Medicine which is the equivalent of the MBBS degree which is awarded in the United States of America.
  4. MBChB stands for Medicinae Baccalaureus, Chirurgiae Baccalaureus. This is the same as the MBBS degree but it all depends on whichever abbreviation the awarding university decides to use.
  5. MBBCh stands for Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae. This is the same degree in medicine as the MBBS.
  6. MB BChirMedicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae. The equivalent of the MBBS degree.
  7. BM BCh: Baccalaureus in Medicina et in Chirurgi. This is also the same as MBBS.
  8. BMBS: Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery. This is also the same as MBBS
  9. MBcHMedicinae Baccalaureus et cHirurgiae Baccalaureus. This may be confusing, but once you add et then the other Baccalaureus would be omitted. It is the same as MBBS
  10. Bachelor of Medicine (BMED): the equivalent of MBBS in China of which some universities now award MBBS instead of BMED.
  11. S.Ked(Sarjana Kedokteran/ Bachelor of Medicine): a degree awarded in Indonesia that is like pre-clinical degree. With S.Ked, you have to further in order to fully practice as doctor of medicine.
  12. MB,BCh, BAO:Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae, Baccalaureus in Arte Obstetricia(Bachelor of Obstetrics). It is still the equivalent of MBBS in Ireland. The obstetric aspect of it was insisted by the legislation to be part of the final examination in obstetrics.

Ranking and Hierarchy of Doctors

Doctors have hierarchy according to the level of the study which mostly but not always correlates with their years of experience in practice. Some doctors take a few years to become specialist while others take longer to become the same type of specialist. The ranking here is according to the type of medical examinations written and level in the post graduate medical school.

Apart from the medical student who has not gotten a certificate yet, the hierarchy in medicine starts with the lowest type of doctor to the highly experienced and knowledgeable specialist. The ranking hierarchy includes:

  1. House Officer: this is the young and less experienced type of doctor in Medicine practice. He/she has just finished the undergraduate medical school and has gone through almost all the fields in Medical practice. He has little knowledge on the management of diseases of the branches of medicine but has not yet specialized. He/she does not have much clinical skills as the already practicing doctors.
  2. Junior Registrar: the junior registrar has started the residency program, has passed the first examination known as Primaries Examination and now has started the post graduate medical school. He stills works at the hospital while learning from his/her superiors (senior registrars and consultants). The junior registrar in Nigeria must have gone for the mandatory national youth service and must have written the Primaries examination before starting the Residency. In countries where the resident doctors are paid, the salaries/wages of the Junior registrar is lower than that of the senior registrar.
  3. Senior Registrar: This is the doctor who has passed through the stage of the junior registrar and in addition has written the PART I post graduate professional medical examination and has passed. The senior registrar has much experience than the junior registrar. He/she might have experience in attending to emergencies in Medicine and if the residency is in surgery, then he/she may be able to perform some surgical operations with little or no supervision.
  4. Consultant: The consultant is a specialist in Medicine and has specialized in one speciality of medicine. The consultant of medicine must have written all the exams written by the junior and senior registrars and in addition has written the PART II professional examination and has passed in order to be awarded a Fellowship in the area of specialty as a Consultant. A consultant in Medicine therefore can be called a Fellow by the members of the College of Post graduate medical school.
    Consultants are responsible for teaching and equipping the registrars and house officers towards management of diseases and also to train them to become specialists too, hence, the consultant in a teaching hospital is mostly seen teaching undergraduate students, house officer and registrars with the aim of training them to become better in management of diseases. The consultants assess the students during professional examinations in Medicine. In some countries, residency will be borne by the resident doctor and not by the government and in such countries, only the employed consultant is paid by the government. Hence the benefit of being a consultant is that you have the guarantee of being paid by the government because you are a specialist in your field in medicine, unlike the resident doctor who may not have the sponsorship by the government while undergoing residency in medicine practice.
  5. Professor of Medicine: This could be a doctor who did not practice the clinical medicine but has been involved in teaching and research and is awarded Professorship or it could be a Consultant who has been teaching in a teaching hospital and has been involved in research and is also awarded professorship.

Medicine Online

Medicine is a course that cannot be done online for now because it requires practical and real life learning. You can learn about the theory aspect of medicine but you cannot use it to practice without seeing how it is done and how different diseases present in a clinical scenario.

Human lives are valuable and someone cannot place the life of his or her loved one on someone who sat with a Computer and learnt Medicine online. How would you feel if a Pilot tells you this: welcome on board, this is my first time of flying a plane but remain calm because I have thoroughly learnt everything online, hence your life is safe. Will you allow him fly the plane? So also is learning Medicine online, it can help you to learn the terminologies of medicine, learn the basics of medicine; but once you are faced with an emergency, recalling and diagnosing what you have learnt will put the life of the patient concerned in danger.

How long does it take to study Medicine and become a Doctor?

It takes not more than 6 years to complete undergraduate medicine program to become a medical doctor depending on the university program. After the 6 year study, you are awarded with an MBBS degree. If you decide to specialize, then you are free to choose the area of specialty in Medicine that you desire and start the post graduate medical school.

For you to become a specialist, it depends on whether you passed the examinations or not. If you pass all the examinations at one sitting, then it should not take you more than 6 additional years after the undergraduate years to become a consultant in medicine in the area of specialty you want, starting from the day you start the residency programme. The Post graduate examination is usually written every two years (depending on your country, it may be less or a bit more for some countries). It means from the day you start your undergraduate study to the day you become a consultant in Medicine, it will take you not less than 12 years (depending on the country).

How hard is studying of Medicine?

Studying medicine is not actually hard. All that is required of you to go through the practice of medicine is consistency and reading of approved medical textbooks. If you keep seeing how some disease conditions are managed, you will know how they can be done even without reading. You will only read to have a complete knowledge of what you are practicing. The reading may seem hard at first when you begin to see medical terminologies, but with consistency, you can even deduce the meaning of a medical terminology even if you have never seen or heard of the word before. An example is: any organ affected by inflammation is added the suffix itis at the end of the medical name of the organ. So Inflammation of the skin becomes Dermatitis, inflammation of the conjunctiva becomes conjunctivitis, inflammation of the meninges become meningitis, and so on. You will need to be consistent therefore in order to succeed as a good Medical doctor.

Is Medicine a Noble Professional course?

Yes. Medicine is not just a professional field but also a Noble profession. Medicine aims to treat and prolong the life expectancy of humans. The doctor has to put the patients first before anything else. This is the reason why the training is rigorous and during the training, you are made to become disciplined, honest, trustworthy, decent, self-sacrificing and morally good. These qualities help you to better manage the patients you will meet in your practice of Medicine.

Validity of Medical certificates across different countries of the World

Obtaining Medical certificate in one country can still allow you practice in most countries in the world. If at all you need to add knowledge to understand how medicine is practiced in the new country, then it may not take longer than a year or two. If you are coming to practice in the tropics after obtaining your MBBS degree in the United States of America or any country outside of the tropics, then you may need to study tropical diseases such as Malaria and others before you start full practice.


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