Types of Physicians: Physical & Behavioral Health Care

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  • 0:03 What Do Physicians Do?
  • 0:37 Physical Physicians
  • 4:39 Behavioral Physicians
  • 5:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, learn about the different types of physicians that work in physical and behavioral care. We'll go over primary care doctors, general practitioners, and specialists, as well as behavioral physicians like psychiatrists.

What Do Physicians Do?

You're going to the doctor. What do you picture yourself saying on the phone? Do you have a stuffy nose? Need new contacts? Twisted your ankle in a basketball game? Although sometimes we think of 'doctor' as a single job, there are many specialties of physicians in the medical field.

There are doctors that treat physical ailments, like a surgeon or your primary care doctor, and doctors that treat mental illness, like a psychiatrist. Today, we're going to look at some examples of different doctors, their job description, and sample treatments they might prescribe.

Physical Physicians

To start, let's look at examples of physical physicians, or doctors that look at ailments of the body.

Internists, Generalists, and Hospitalists

If you're visiting the doctor for a physical or a case of the flu, you're probably seeing your general practitioner. These doctors treat a variety of conditions and keep up with general patient health and prevention methods, like physicals, pap smears for women, and vaccines. They may treat adults or children. Some general practitioners specialize in working with children, called pediatricians.

They differ from internists who are trained to work with complex cases of common or rare diseases, specifically in adults. An internist may work with a patient with multiple conditions, or severe chronic issues that last their lifetime.

Since these doctors are working with patients for a long time, they develop meaningful relationships with their patients. Meeting with patients on a regular basis for checkups and physicals helps build rapport.

If the doctor works primarily in the hospital, the practitioner is called a hospitalist. Most hospitalists are internists and specialize in severe issues. Although hospitalists work with a patient during their hospital stay only, they can build report by checking in regularly and communicating with family members.

For example, a child with a broken leg will have concerned parents. Doctors should communicate the possible treatment plans in easy to understand language and review evidence for their treatment, such as X-rays and scans before implementing plaster or air-casts, pins, or surgery.


If you have a problem that is specific to a certain organ system, your general practitioner might refer you to a specialist, or a doctor that has a specific focus. Internists may also collaborate with specialists to provide appropriate care. Let's look at a few examples.

Joe comes to the hospital during a heart attack. The emergency physician delivers clot-busting medication to try to relieve the blocked artery, but does not have success. Emergency physicians treat any type of patient entering the emergency room.

If the emergency physician determines the patient needs surgery, a trauma surgeon is called in. Trauma surgeons are responsible for a wide range of surgeries in the emergency room. In Joe's case, he will undergo coronary bypass surgery to reroute blood around the blocked artery.

After surgery, Joe will need to be referred to a cardiologist, a doctor that specializes in heart medicine. The cardiologist might prescribe blood thinners or blood pressure medication to ease the stress on his heart. He'll also recommend Joe change his diet and exercise habits to promote heart health and check in with him on a regular basis. Joe will also see his general practitioner, who will collaborate with the cardiologist.

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