What Is a Specialist Physician? Different Types of Doctors and Medical Specialists Explained

At some point, your primary care provider may recommend you see a specialist. You may wonder what a specialist physician does that your family doctor cannot. Often, it’s simply a matter of more in-depth knowledge. A specialist can diagose and treat disease and help you manage chronic illnesses. Specialists are an important part of your medical team.

Doctor talking with patient at desk in office

What are the common types of specialists?

So, who is a physician specialist? They are doctors who have received years of additional training in a specific area. There are several different kinds of medical specialties. Here are a few of the more common ones that you may discuss with your family doctor.


A cardiologist is a heart and blood vessel specialist. You might see a heart doctor if you have heart disease, an irregular heart rate, high blood pressure or a history of heart attack or stroke. A family history of heart problems may lead to a referral to a cardiologist. They can help you manage your heart health and make decisions about treatment plans.


A dermatologist treats the skin, hair and nails. They diagnose and treat skin cancers, skin irritations, moles, scars, allergies of the skin and common conditions, such as acne. By looking at your hair, skin and nails, dermatologists can also spot other health issues, like scalp problems, diabetes and disorders of the liver or heart.


An endocrinologist is a hormone and metabolism specialist. They can consult on a wide range of conditions, such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, osteoporosis, adrenal disorders and sexual dysfunction. They may work to rebalance hormones and diagnose and treat conditions.


A gastroenterologist is a specialist with advanced training in the treatment and diagnosis of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and liver. You might be referred to a gastroenterologist for a number of reasons, including polyps of the colon, colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, pancreatitis or other symptoms or conditions that affect this part of the body.


Immunologists are also called allergists. Although allergies are an important part of what they do, they also treat autoimmune conditions like lupus and multiple sclerosis. You might see an immunologist for specialized treatment and diagnosis of conditions like respiratory diseases, eczema, allergic rhinitis, hay fever or contact dermatitis.


A neurologist is trained in the brain and nervous system. They diagnose, manage and treat many conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, migraine, concussion and stroke. A neurologist does not perform surgery. That is the job of a neurosurgeon, which is a different kind of medical specialist.

Obstetrician and gynecologist

An OB-GYN is a specialist in two closely related fields. Obstetrics (OB) refers to pregnancy and childbirth. Gynecology (GYN) refers to the female reproductive system. OB-GYNs handle a wide range of issues in these two fields, including preventive care, cancers of the reproductive organs and changes through menopause. Most women will visit with an OB-GYN at some point in their lives and during some periods — like pregnancy — for regular care.


An oncologist is a cancer doctor. If you are referred to an oncologist, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. You may have symptoms that indicate cancer or have a family history of the disease. There are a number of different kinds of oncologists. Medical oncologists treat cancer with chemotherapy and immunotherapy, while radiation oncologists use radiation therapy to fight the disease. Surgical oncologists remove cancer through surgery.


An ophthalmologist is a doctor who specializes in the eyes. As a medical doctor, an ophthalmologist can provide advanced care not available through an optometrist or other eye care professional. An ophthalmologist can diagnose and treat eye and vision disease and can recognize signs in the eyes of illnesses that affect other parts of the body. An ophthalmologist also performs eye surgery.


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with special training in mental health. A psychiatrist is different from a psychologist, as a psychologist normally has different training and is not a medical doctor. A psychiatrist sees patients for one-on-one and group therapy. They can prescribe psychiatric medications.

How to find the right specialist physician for you?

Choosing the right specialist is a lot like finding a primary care provider. There are some practical concerns, but you also want to make sure it’s a good fit. Your primary care doctor may give you the name of one or a few specialists.

Here are a few things you may want to learn about the specialist:

  • Background and training.
  • Services covered by your insurance.
  • Privileges at local hospitals and specialized care centers.
  • Patient reviews and professional reputation.
  • Distance to the office or clinic for appointments.
  • Approach to care.

Even as you receive care from a specialist, your primary care provider will remain a crucial part of your health care team.

Why should you choose a provider at Intermountain Health?

Intermountain Health has over 1,500 specialists in our network who are dedicated to community-focused care. Our network of providers extends to many highly regarded specialists in women’s health, geriatrics, cardiology, endocrinology, oncology and many more. To get started, book an appointment today. Use our online search tool to find a trusted provider today.

*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician or qualified healthcare professional.

Part of being well is being heard.