What is a physician?

Being a physician is a fulfilling, dynamic and intellectually stimulating career.

A physician is a medical doctor who usually focuses on the non-surgical treatment of patients’ conditions. That is not to say that being a physician is not practical; most specialisms have a unique range of procedures that relate to their specialty. It is common to work in the hospital setting, working in teams of varying sizes.

Physicians in training complete their Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians UK (MRCP(UK)) exams and then have a choice to specialise in any of the medical specialties. Training starts with internal medicine stage 1, giving a broad range of exposure to medical specialties, before focusing on a specific area and internal medicine during stage 2. 

With a choice of 30 specialties to train in, becoming a physician offers great flexibility and diversity, with most specialties offering a mixture of inpatient and outpatient medicine. Those with an acute interest can choose to focus on working with patients coming into the emergency department (acute medicine), while other specialties (eg dermatology) are based more in the outpatient setting.

Why become a physician?

Becoming a physician is a great step towards a fulfilling, dynamic and intellectually stimulating career. With 30 medical specialties, there is a huge choice of options for specialty training, with each specialty offering a different mixture of patient interactions, inpatient and outpatient settings, procedures, spending time in the laboratory (haematology, immunology and combined infection training), and even caring for paediatric patients in some specialties (eg dermatology and clinical genetics).

Most specialties have a mixture of acute and chronic presentations and allow for patient continuity, enabling close professional relationships. Some specialties are also linked to another medical royal college, such as immunology, haematology, clinical oncology and the infection specialties. 

As well as direct clinical work, some physicians spend their time in research, helping to develop new treatments and guidelines and improving clinical care, and many physicians are keen teachers and have roles in medical education, from being an educational supervisor to having a role in the medical school or postgraduate education faculty. Another area is quality improvement: making innovations in clinical practice to improve the service we deliver, ensuring safety and quality for our patients.

What are the medical specialties?

The 30 medical specialties are:

  • Acute medicine
  • Allergy
  • Audiological medicine
  • Cardiology
  • Clinical genetics
  • Clinical neurophysiology
  • Clinical pharmacology and therapeutics
  • Dermatology
  • Endocrinology and diabetes mellitus
  • Gastroenterology
  • General (internal) medicine
  • Genitourinary medicine
  • Geriatric medicine
  • Haematology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious diseases
  • Medical oncology
  • Medical ophthalmology
  • Metabolic medicine
  • Neurology
  • Nuclear medicine
  • Paediatric cardiology
  • Palliative medicine
  • Pharmaceutical medicine
  • Rehabilitation medicine
  • Renal medicine
  • Respiratory medicine
  • Rheumatology
  • Sport and exercise medicine
  • Stroke medicine

Whatever specialty you choose, patients are at the heart of the profession.

Further information

You can find out more about a physician's career pathway by visiting our education and practice pages. Whether you're preparing to apply for medical school or you're a new consultant, we have tips, careers advice and resources to help you.