Why Do Doctors Specialize?

When something wrong with your foot, you go see a special foot doctor. When something’s wrong with your nose, you go to an ENT doctor (ear, nose, and throat). When you’ve hurt your hand, you make an appointment with a hand surgeon. Why can’t you get all the medical care you need in one spot? Why do doctors specialize?

To be fair, that is a really broad question, so the resulting answer might feel a little bit generic by the time we get to the end. But I’ll try to convey everything I’ve learned in my time as a medical marketer, because I think I have something of a unique point of view on this.

Specialization is a Requirement

In some sense, I think doctors specialize because they have to. The human body is enormously complex. The hands you’re using to type have dozens of bones — not to mention the ligaments, nerves, and muscles, all specially connected. The hands are complicated. So, too, then,are the ailments that tend to affect the hands.

You could spend your whole life just studying the hands. And a hand surgeon might have to. Specialization is a way to take a very complex whole and break it up into bits that are more understandable (not, you know, literally).

But you can see how, in order to better understand certain areas of the body and how they function (as well as how they might be healed), doctors will tend to choose one area of focus or another. That said, the complexity of the human body isn’t the only factor contributing to specialization. There is also, of course, a profit motive at work here; it’s not really an intentional profit motive, but it is certainly an artifact of our rather segmented medical profession.

What About General Practitioners?

In some sense, practicing general medicine is itself a kind of specialization. Sometimes referred to as a primary care physician, these are the doctors that you’ll see most often. They’re the ones that look after your general wellbeing, do checkups and that kind of thing. In many cases, they’ll also refer you to a specialist when they reach the limits of what primary care can accomplish.

Knowing those limits is part of what makes primary care somewhat tricky. But it’s also incredibly necessary, as there’s no doctor that knows quite as much about what’s happening with your health, holistically, as your primary surgeon.

But generally speaking, primary care physicians don’t really consider themselves to be “specialized,” and when they encounter a problem they can’t solve, you might often find yourself referred to such a specialist.

Should You Go See a Specialist?

So, let’s say you’re referred to a specialist. There are some pros and cons to consider. First and foremost, specialists can be more expensive than general practitioners. And insurance may not cover as much as you’d like. On the other hand, if your doctor is telling you to go see a specialist, you should probably listen to your doctor (that’s what they’re there for).

Let’s put it this way: I am not a doctor and I’m not a medical professional. I just market for them. So you shouldn’t take this article as anything other than food for thought or my own personal reflections. You definitely shouldn’t consider this article to be any kind of medical advice.

So these discussions about specialization should really be had with your doctor. Sometimes that means having a conversation with your general practitioner. Other times, it might mean having a conversation with a specialist. It’s okay to ask your hand surgeon what you’re getting out of the specialization.

Is Specialization a Good Thing?

The broader questions, of course, is whether specialization is a good thing in the long run. And that’s difficult to say. On the one hand, specialization does allow surgeons and doctors to really dig in and get to know one part of the body. That can be a good thing if that is the part of the body that’s bugging you!

But there’s a cost, I think, when we stop looking at the body holistically. That doesn’t mean the cost isn’t worth it. I’m not wise enough to know for sure, I think. But my guess is that we’re all better off when specialists and generalists alike work together to get a better view of the health of the individual.

After all, doctors specialize so that they can better help people. Medicine is, for the most part, all about the healing.