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Difference Between Physician and Doctor


Difference Between Physician and Doctor

Physician vs. Doctor

“If symptoms persist, consult your doctor.”

This is one of the statements commonly heard by health enthusiasts. The reminder can be encountered in almost all commercials for medications and vitamins. When patients experience a recurrence of symptoms, they dial the number of their physician to set an appointment for a consultation.


So which one is should you visit: the doctor or the physician?
Perhaps it is more proper to ask whether there is indeed a difference between a doctor and a physician.

Various medical books and publications imply that physicians have the responsibility to provide patient care after a thorough diagnosis, which should be based on interviews with patients and a physical examination. They may also give tidbits of knowledge on how their patients can maintain wellness and prevent diseases.

Physicians also have the authority to determine the urgency of follow-up checkups and appointments, as well as prescribe medications and treatments. Simply put, it is the physician that patients consult whenever they feel something is wrong about their bodies. Physicians plan the treatment for the disease based on the observed symptoms and diagnosis. They may also refer the patients to specialists.

Judging from the list of the physician’s duties and responsibilities, it is natural to assume that the terms “physician” and “doctor” are synonymous. True enough, the two terms can be used interchangeably in many instances. Note, however, that all physicians are doctors, but not all doctors are physicians.

To become a physician, a prospective medical school student needs to obtain a 3.8 GPA, which gets them into college for a four-year Bachelor’s degree; this can be considered as their pre-med education. Taking the MCATS and obtaining a high score allows the student to get into four more years of medical school. Upon completion, they automatically become a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), or a physician.


Continuing their studies for a two- to five-year specialization or residency, however, can get one into specific fields of medicine, remaining a doctor, but no longer just a physician. They may opt to specialize in surgery, oncology, or dermatology. They are labeled as doctors, but not physicians. This is where the difference is drawn: physicians have completed eight years of medical school, but doctors with specialization have gone through 11-13 years of studying.

Doctors can be a physician, dermatologist, oncologist, dentist, orthopedist, pediatrician, etc; there are various subcategories of a doctor.

Their job requirements may also differ; physicians need a medical degree from medical schools accredited and recognized by the state. They may also need to present current DEA and DPS Certificates of Registration along with proof of completion of a minimum of two years of internship. Doctors also have the same requirements; however, additional internship experience is needed whenever they choose to work under their specialization. Further exams and certifications also serve as a prerequisite depending on the state they reside in.

Lastly, doctors and physicians can differ in their methods of treating patients. Physicians use drugs and medications to make their patients well. Doctors, on the other hand, can perform surgery and more comprehensive medical procedures. Given this information, anyone can infer that the term “doctor” is used in reference to those who have completed doctoral programs in medical schools, regardless of their specializations. “Physician,” on the other hand, applies only to those who have completed their doctorate in the practice of medicine.



1.“Physicians” and “doctors” can be used interchangeably because a physician is a doctor. Not all doctors, however, are physicians.
2. Physicians have finished pre-medical and medical school. Doctors have completed two to five more years of residency after graduating from medical school.
3. Doctors have more requirements than physicians in terms of internships and certificates.
4. Physicians treat patients with drugs and medication; doctors may cure using surgery and more comprehensive medical procedures.

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