Since the American Board of Medical Specialties recognizes more than 130 medical specialties and subspecialties, describing all the tasks and duties of the group would take a long time. However, all physicians have certain basic responsibilities. Some are task-oriented, such as writing a prescription, while others are related to major issues, such as ethical behavior.
History and Care Planning
A patient's family history can provide vital clues to a current or potential medical problem. A medical history provides information on the patient’s family and social history, previous medical conditions, injuries or surgeries, which may affect current or future care. The physician must enter all this information into the patient’s medical record, whether on paper or in an electronic medical record. Physicians also develop a plan of care that could include medicines, treatments or a referral to another specialist.
Making a Diagnosis
All physicians make medical diagnoses and are expected to keep their patients informed and make decisions that are in the patients' best interest. The first step in the process is usually a physical examination of the patient, although specialists such as pathologists rely on the medical record and their examination of lab specimens to diagnose diseases. Physicians also order, perform or interpret diagnostic tests, such as lab work, X-rays or other imaging studies, biopsies and invasive procedures, such as cardiac catheterizations. The results of the tests support a diagnosis of injury or illness.
Keeping the Patient Informed
Patient education and answering questions is an important component of a physician's responsibilities. People must understand how their lifestyle choices, such as smoking or a bad diet, can affect their health. In addition, patients need education about the medications they take or other treatments they might need to improve their health. Before a physician can perform a procedure such as a biopsy or a major surgery, he must inform the patient of possible risks and complications, as well as the likelihood of success, and provide all the information necessary to allow informed consent.
What Happens in the Background
Much of what a physician does isn’t visible to the naked eye because it involves her thought processes, according to a 2013 article in "Annals of Family Medicine." As she examines a patient, the doctor conducts a running mental dialogue of symptoms and observations, building them into a preliminary diagnosis. Whenever she reviews lab results, she fits in that piece of the puzzle. Although a patient might have come in with one concern, the doctor keeps her mental radar scanning for the possibility of other problems and tries to deal with them at the time of the visit.
- American Board of Medical Specialties: Specialties and Subspecialties
- O*Net Occupational Information Network: Medical Doctors
- O*Net Occupational Information Network: Surgeons
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- Annals of Family Medicine: Measuring Up - Musings of a Family Doctor on the Employee Time Clock
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images