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What Is a Physician?

June 24, 2021

A physician is a person who practices medicine. Physicians provide counselling, diagnosis, and treatment to patients with diseases, illnesses, or injuries. The medical field is vast, leaving room for many areas of specialization such as oncology, surgery, and neurology. In this article, we discuss what a physician does, share their earning potential, describe where they work, list the skills they need, and provide steps to help you become one.

What does a physician do?

Physicians interact with patients and other medical professionals to diagnose, treat, and manage ailments and injuries. Although specific duties may vary depending on your area of specialization, there are some general duties you may be in charge of. Some essential duties of a physician include:

  • Listening to patients to gather information about symptoms
  • Performing diagnostics to determine underlying issues
  • Prescribing drugs and administering treatments
  • Reading and explaining laboratory results
  • Working with other medical practitioners to provide the best care for patients
  • Ordering and performing necessary medical procedures

Average physician salary

The salary range for physicians may vary based on their level of training, experience, specialty, and geographical location. The average annual salary for a physician is $256,610 per year. Other benefits that a physician may be eligible to receive through their employer include:

  • Health insurance
  • Group life insurance for beneficiaries or children
  • Student loan repayment assistance
  • Continuing medical education allowance
  • Relocation assistance

Where can a physician work?

A physician's work environment may vary depending on their specialty, level of seniority, educational background, and experience. Most physicians work extended hours as full-time employees in medical facilities. However, some may have part-time consulting positions in different hospitals. For example, a general practitioner may work up to 45 hours per week, while a resident surgeon might work 36 hours. A general practitioner may also work regular office hours while a resident surgeon might work through the night or weekend if needed. Here are some common workplaces for physicians:

  • Hospitals: Most physicians work in hospitals, although they may work in specialized departments. Some examples of departments a physician may work in include cardiology, hematology, oncology, radiology, pathology, palliative medicine, cosmetic surgery, orthopedic surgery, and surgical gynecology.

  • Community: Physicians may provide treatments in community clinics, outpatient facilities, and primary healthcare centres. In this setting, physicians may treat patients for a wide variety of ailments or refer them to appropriate specialists in the area.

  • Private practices: Physicians can also establish their own private practice as either a general practitioner or a specialized physician. As general practitioners, they provide general medical care, while as specialists, they focus on a specific medical area, such as neurosurgery, cosmetic surgery, or surgical gynecology.

  • Academia and research centres: Some medical graduates prefer to pursue a career in academia and medical research. They often use their degree to teach other students and medical practitioners while conducting medical research of their own.

Skills needed to be a physician

Beyond the necessary medical training, there are some vital skills physicians need to succeed. Here are some skills that can help you advance in your career as a physician:

Communication skills

Effective communication is essential when diagnosing a patient. A physician needs to ask the right questions, analyze their patients' answers, and explain technical terms in simple language to ensure patients understand them. They must also record accurate notes and update each patient's medical history. In addition to communicating with patients, physicians communicate with other medical professionals to convey necessary information and provide the best care for their patients. Having excellent reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills can help you communicate important information accurately.

Related: Using Therapeutic Communication Effectively

Problem-solving skills

Physicians apply their technical knowledge to real-life situations to help their patients overcome challenges every day. For example, after diagnosing a patient, they need to determine the appropriate treatment or prescription plan. They also need to be attentive to the long-term and short-term changes in a patient's condition to update their treatment plan accordingly.

Leadership skills

Physicians may face medical emergencies that require strong leadership skills to navigate effectively. Patients and other medical personnel often rely on a physician's instructions to help them make the best healthcare decisions. Having strong leadership and coordination skills as a physician can help you manage your medical team efficiently and deliver positive results.

How to become a physician

Physicians complete extensive education and training hours to become certified practitioners. You can follow these steps to become a certified physician:

1. Get a bachelor's degree

Complete an undergraduate program through an accredited institution before applying to medical school. You may pursue a degree in pre-medicine, psychology, biology, or a related field to prepare yourself. However, some provinces may not require a bachelor's degree to apply for medical school. You can use a search engine to research the specific requirements for your province to ensure you have the most accurate information before applying.

2. Pass the Medical College Admission Test

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is an examination that evaluates your critical thinking capabilities, problem-solving skills, and written knowledge of specific medical and scientific concepts. This test regulates eligibility for admission into medical school. While some schools use MCAT scores to determine eligibility, schools that promote Francophone culture may not require you to submit your MCAT results because this test does not have a French equivalent.

3. Complete medical school

Currently, 17 medical schools exist across the country. The programs they offer may vary depending on the province they are in. These medical schools typically offer three to five-year programs to complete a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery (M.D., C.M.) degree. The first half of medical school usually involves in-classroom teachings on fundamental subjects related to medicine. The remaining years may focus on a clinical clerkship where students gain hands-on experience in a clinical setting while being supervised by licensed practitioners.

4. Pass the first licensing examination

After completing medical school, you must take and pass the first part of the Medical Council of Canada Evaluating Examination before progressing to the residency program. This examination assesses a candidate's clinical decision-making capacity and medical knowledge. It is a computer-based test that students complete in one day.

5. Complete your residency

The residency program is a post-graduate medical education requirement. Graduating students can apply for available residency programs through the Canadian Residency Matching Service (CaRMS). This program typically takes between two and six years to complete, depending on your area of specialization. During the residency program, graduates work alongside licensed physicians to complete the required medical training.

6. Pass the second licensing examination

After completing your residency program, you can register to take the second part of the Medical Council of Canada Evaluating Examination. You also need to pass the written and clinical examinations administered by the College of Family Physicians or Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. Afterwards, you may need to pass a supplementary examination required by your provincial authority. These examinations test your ability to apply medical knowledge and develop therapeutic and investigational clinical plans. After meeting these requirements, you may obtain a license to practice as a physician.

7. Complete a fellowship program

If you want to specialize in a specific area, you may complete a fellowship training program. Fellowships may last between one and three years and typically occur after you complete your residency program. During your fellowship program, you can gain in-depth knowledge of a specific branch of medicine by working closely with a specialist. For instance, as an orthopedic physician, you may focus on knee surgery.

Related: 5 Steps to Become a Doctor

Other medical careers

The medical field is very vast and there are numerous career paths you can explore in healthcare beyond being a physician. Here are four examples of medical-related careers:

National average salary: $47,544 per year

Primary duties: A physician assistant is a health service provider with the qualifications to provide medical services under the supervision of a physician or doctor. Their job roles may change depending on where they work. Physician assistants can help doctors assess a patient's medical history, order necessary diagnostic tests, perform assessments, and prescribe treatments.

National average salary: $101,264 per year

Primary duties: A pharmacist works in a pharmacy and dispenses prescription medication to patients. They also offer patients medical advice and provide them with instructions for different medications to ensure patients understand how to use their prescriptions appropriately. Pharmacists undergo six years of education, including at least two years of undergraduate study and four years in a graduate program to earn their pharmacist degree.

Related: 5 Steps to Become a Pharmacist

National average salary: $151,383 per year

Primary duties: Dentists focus on oral hygiene and health. Dentistry is an essential profession that can uncover many whole-body disorders through careful examination of patients' mouths. Training to become a dentist can take up to eight years to complete. This typically includes four years of undergraduate school and four years of dental school.

National average salary: $66,824 per year

Primary duties: A physiotherapist develops specialized recovery programs for patients to restore their functional ability and movement. They help patients manage pain, mobility, balance, and motor function. Physiotherapists complete at least three years of undergraduate school, two years of post-graduate study, a national competency exam, licensing exam, and at least 1,000 hours of clinical training to become qualified to practice.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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