They wear white coats and bustle about the place attending to the needs of different kinds of people all day long. A highly respected lot, theirs is the business to save lives.
Do you know who they are? Yes, they are doctors without whom it is difficult to imagine life in the twenty-first century.
Medicine: Yesterday and Today
The field of medicine has taken great strides in the past decade, in the world. There are many hospitals that offer-advanced treatment for many diseases, which was not possible a few decades ago.
Research is playing an important role in the field of medicine. Genetics is the focus of many scientists the world over as it may help cure diseases like cancer. Gene therapy is used to treat genetic disorders by introducing normal genes into cells in the place of defective or missing ones.
Cloning is yet another achievement of the past decade; but with all these advances also arises the question of medical ethics. In all probability we can see human clones in the future. The recent advancement in this field is Andi, the first genetically modified monkey. Human gene therapy was used for this process. This procedure would be a breakthrough in curing diseases like Alzheimer's disease, cancer, AIDS etc.
Nature of Work
The nature of work differs from one specialty to another. But the three main tasks that all doctors perform are examination, diagnosis and treatment.
When the doctor meets the patient, he/she has to first find out the main medical problem of the patient. The doctor does this by questioning the patient about symptoms and finding out the medical history of the patient and also by way of a physical check-up. The doctor also records the body temperature, blood pressure etc if necessary. Tests are prescribed in some cases. Such tests are conducted independently in medical labs and the results are brought back to the doctor for analysis.
After the examination of the patient and analysis of test results, the doctor arrives at a conclusion about the illness the patient is suffering from. This is called the diagnosis. The doctor may also coordinate with paramedics such as laboratory technicians, pathologists and radiographers to arrive at the diagnosis, as many diseases are difficult to detect by checking externally.
Based on the diagnosis, the doctor advises the patient a treatment to cure the illness or disease. It may be medication in the case of minor problems and hospitalization or surgery in case of more serious illnesses. Individual doctors or a group of doctors in a hospital/clinical set up provide treatment.
Areas of Specialization
An individual who completes the MBBS degree becomes a doctor, but he/she does not possess specialized knowledge in any particular branch of medicine. In today's scenario, an MBBS degree alone does not hold much value for an excellent career graph; often, a postgraduate degree is necessary. The following are the important areas of specialization in medicine:
i) General Medicine A doctor with an MBBS degree can practice as a general physician. However, an MD in general medicine after MBBS provides specialized training in the area of medicine. The work of general physicians involves acute disease management, which includes diagnosing, treating or referring the patients to specialists if the need arises. They also help the patients in preventing diseases, understanding health problems and counseling them. These doctors usually work as family doctors for all age groups. After the MBBS degree, a doctor has to undergo a three-year MD program in general medicine. There are also diploma courses in this area of medicine.
ii) General Surgery
In general surgery, the doctors are taught surgery on all the organs in the body. Surgeons also diagnose and treat injuries, diseases and disorders of the human body by prescribing minor surgeries. They can further specialize in super-specialties such as neurosurgery, cardio-thoracic surgery, orthopedic surgery etc after which they can perform specialized surgeries. To become a general surgeon, one has to undertake a three-year MS course in general surgery after MBBS.
Cardiology is the study of the heart and its ailments. Cardiologists diagnose and treat diseases and disorders of the heart. Cardiologists also perform surgeries of the heart like by-pass, angioplasty, transplants etc. After the MBBS course, a three year MS degree in cardio-thoracic surgery is essential to become a cardiologist.
Neurology is the study of the nervous system. Neurologists specialize in the treatment of diseases and disorders related to the human brain. They handle the disorders related to the nervous system and other problems arising from the malfunctioning of the brain. These doctors diagnose the problem of patients and prescribe medication, therapy or surgery as the case may be. A three-year MS program in neurosurgery after MBBS is required to become a neurologist.
v) Obstetrics and Gynecology
This area of medicine deals with the treatment of diseases and disorders of the female reproductive system. Gynecology deals with the diseases and disorders of female reproductive organs and obstetrics deals with pregnancy and childbirth. Most doctors in this field handle both these areas. These doctors also conduct specialized surgical operations like cesarean operations, hysterectomies, laproscopy etc. They also deal with ovarian cancers and other reproductive organs. After MBBS, one has to complete a three-year MS course in obstetrics and gynecology to enter this field.
Pediatrics deals with the diagnosis and treatment of disorders in children from newborns to adolescents. Pediatricians also study the growth and development of children. An MD course in pediatrics after MBBS is required to become a pediatrician.
This branch of medicine deals with the treatment of the diseases of the human eye and its related parts. Ophthalmologists are also trained to perform specialized surgeries like laser surgery, removal of cataract, treatment of glaucoma etc. To become an ophthalmologist one has to complete an MD/MS course in ophthalmology after MBBS
viii) Ear, Nose and Throat
Also referred to as ENT, it deals with the disease and disorder of the ear, nose and throat. The physiological interconnection of the three organs enables one specialist to handle problems related to these three organs. ENT specialists also perform surgery, conduct hearing tests and prescribe hearing aids. After an MBBS degree, a three-year MS course in ENT surgery enables a doctor to become a specialist in this field.
Dermatology deals with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases related to the skin. They also treat scalp and hair problems. A three-year MD course in dermatology after MBBS is essential to enter this field.
This branch of medicine deals with the treatment of mental disorders by means of medication or counseling. Psychiatrists treat problems like anxieties, phobias, delusions and other mental conditions. An MD course in psychiatry after MBBS is required to become a psychiatrist.
Other Areas of Specialization
There are other areas of specialization in MD programs like community medicine, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, microbiology, forensic medicine, communicable diseases, preventive and social medicine, anatomy and plastic surgery.
There are super specializations in medicine after the completion of MS/MD courses. Super specialties are available in neurosurgery, cardio- thoracic surgery, genito-urinary surgery, plastic surgery, pediatric surgery, gastroentology, clinical` hematology etc.
Doctors are employed in,
Hospitals (private and government-owned)
Primary Health centres
Voluntary organizations which provide medical care
Private practice is also an option.
Hospitals and Clinics
Most doctors work in hospitals, where they treat both in and out patients. Some doctors work full time in hospitals while some others work as consultants or on a part time basis. Doctors who work full time would have to work in shifts and also interact with other doctors, nurses, paramedics, patients and their relatives. These hospitals can be private or government-run.
There are many clinics in cities and towns, where minor ailments are treated. Doctors work full time, part time or on a consultancy basis in these clinics.
Primary Health Centres (PHCs)
The government runs several primary health centres in urban and rural areas. These are not full-fledged hospitals. Most PHCs do not admit patients; some PHCs admit a few patients apart from treating out patients. A few doctors and nurses work here. PHCs are mainly situated in the rural and semi urban areas.
The industrial sector employs doctors for the welfare of its workers. These doctors treat employees for minor ailments, accidents at work etc.
There are many voluntary organizations that care for and treat patient with diseases such as leprosy, AIDS, mental disorders etc. Some doctors work for these organizations on a full time basis and some on a part time basis. There are some doctors who even work for free. These organizations may function at local, national or international levels.
Doctors are employed by many research organizations run by the government or the private sector. These doctors work to develop new treatment, new drugs and also study diseases, their causes and remedies etc.
Doctors are employed by the armed forces, i.e. the army, navy and airforce, under the ministry of defence. These doctors are taken on as commissioned officers. These doctors generally treat personnel in the armed forces. During times of war, these doctors are supposed to work near the battlefront to treat the wounded.
Many leading educational institutions have a resident doctor. These doctors give first aid to students in case of accidents and treat them for minor illnesses.
Most doctors who work in hospitals also run their own practice in their spare time. This is a common practice among doctors. There are doctors who have full time private practice also. In most of the cases, doctors work alone with probably an assistant or intern. Private practitioners attend to only minor cases and refer patients to hospitals and specialists in case of major illnesses.
A doctor is generally a very busy person. Their work is largely indoors. A doctor does not have to travel very much except if working with voluntary organizations or in rural health care. A doctor in government service might be posted to remote rural areas. A doctor working in a hospital would have to work in shifts and also during the night. A doctor has to constantly interact with other people like patients, other doctors, nurses and relatives of patients in a hospital, clinic or community set up.
Pros and Cons
The biggest reward of being a doctor is the satisfaction of healing people and saving lives. The profession also pays well. It is a very noble and respected profession.
On the flip side, medical education is lengthy. To be a specialist in the field can take up to seven years of study. A doctor has to put in long hours of work and also work in shifts. A doctor can be called at any time of the day or night in case of emergencies. One must be prepared for such intrusion on leisure time.
Who makes an ideal doctor?
A doctor should be dedicated, responsible and have an earnest desire to help people. Sympathy, patience, understanding, communication skills and good decision-making ability should be the characteristics of a doctor.
The future of the medical field in India is very promising. The health sector is growing rapidly, creating demand for qualified doctors. Medical research is also acquiring great importance in India. There is an increase in the number of diseases and ailments due to the contemporary urbanized environment and lifestyle. This has again created a demand for doctors and specialists. On the other hand, rural health care is acquiring importance too. This opens avenues for work in rural and semi-urban areas of the country.
It has been estimated that India will require a million doctors over the next ten years to meet its growing medical requirements both in rural and urban set ups. This points to a healthy trend in the growth of the much-neglected medical sector in the country.
Related areas of Work
Doctors have rather limited choices when it comes to diversification. Main options are,
Medical journalism (they might, for instance, choose to work as medical editors with health sites)
Health and Hospital Administration
(Thanks to Zunaidi for his contribution).