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What do they do?

Dr. Sanjay was asleep when the phone rang. It was the hospital calling. He needed to come in for an emergency cesarean section. Dr. Sanjay hurriedly dressed, skipping his usual shave and shower. After a mad dash to the hospital, he hurried into the operating room where he delivered a healthy baby girl. Following the delivery, Dr. Sanjay wolfed down breakfast and shaved in the hospital's on-call room. He was late for appointments at his busy pediatrics practice. The rest of his day was spent trying to play catch up, attending to a packed waiting room filled with children nursing both minor--and more serious--ills.

And so goes another day in the life of a physician. Dr. Sanjay and other doctors like him, provide medical care to injured, sick, and dying patients, and preventative care to the healthy. Their days are spent attending to dozens of patients whom they exam and diagnose. Part of their job is studying each patient's medical history and ordering and interpreting various medical tests. After a full assessment of each patient they see, they prescribe the best possible treatment. They also offer advice on important lifestyle issues affecting health, such as exercise, diet, and good hygiene. When necessary, they prescribe medications.

About one-third of doctors are primary care physicians. They practice general and family medicine, general internal medicine or general pediatrics. They are the first doctors patients normally see when they get ill or need a check up. Many are in private practice, working on their own or in a partnership with other doctors. Some work in health maintenance organizations while others work in hospitals.

Other doctors are specialists in various parts of the body. For example, if a primary care physician discovers that a patient has a problem with his heart, that physician will send the patient to a heart specialist who is able to provide a more indepth analysis and treatment of the problem.

Not all physicians deal directly with patients. Some are involved exclusively in research. Others, like radiologists and pathologists, work largely behind the scenes, reading and interpreting the results of X-rays and diagnostic tests, or analyzing tissue samples. Surgeons, of course, do much of their work while patients are asleep under anesthesia.

The medical profession is deeply revered in this society, and doctors are generally accorded much respect and great financial rewards. Even so, there are stresses.

Specific tasks include:

  • Examining patients

  • Ordering or performing tests

  • Evaluating tests

  • Diagnosing the patient's condition

  • Prescribing medication

  • Giving medical advice

  • Performing check-ups and physical exams

  • Monitoring treatments

  • Carrying out medical research

  • Maintaining medical records



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