What is a Physician?

Physicians are often called medical specialists. They are doctors who have completed an extra eight years or more of training after their initial university medical training. Patients are generally referred to a physician or paediatrician by a general practitioner seeking expert medical advice.

Physicians often choose to specialise in a particular area of medicine. You may know physicians by their main area of specialty such as cardiologists, oncologists, gastroenterologists, general physicians, occupational physicians, rehabilitation physicians. The College trains physicians in all of the following areas:

CardiologyDiseases of the heart
Clinical GeneticsDisorders of the genes
Clinical PharmacologyThe effects of drugs and management of drug therapy
Community Child HealthSocial and physical environmental factors affecting the growth and development of young people whether well, ill, impaired or disabled, generally in community-based or government child health services
Paediatric Emergency MedicineDiagnosis and management of acute/emergency paediatric problems
EndocrinologyDisorders of internal glands and hormones, including diabetes and thyroid disorders
Gastroenterology and HepatologyDiseases of the gut, liver and associated organs
General MedicineDiagnosis and management of conditions that may be complex, difficult to diagnose or involve multiple organs and systems of the body
Geriatric MedicineManagement of illness and maintenance of health in aged people
General PaediatricsDiagnosis and management of infants, children and adolescents with undifferentiated and complex conditions
HaematologyDiseases of the blood
Immunology & AllergyDiseases affecting the immune system
Infectious DiseasesDiseases caused by infections
Intensive Care MedicineManagement of critically ill patients
Neonatal/Perinatal MedicineCare of the foetus, the premature and ill new born
NephrologyDiseases of the kidneys
NeurologyDiseases of the nervous system, including the brain
Nuclear medicineThe use of radioactivity for diagnosis, and occasionally, the treatment of illness
OncologyManagement of patients with cancer and tumours
Paediatrics & Child and Adolescent PsychiatryDiagnosis and management of children and adolescents with psychological difficulties
Paediatric Rehabilitation MedicineThe management of disability and handicap arising from impairments in children and adolescents
Palliative medicineManagement of people with terminal illnesses; emphasising the quality of life
RheumatologyManagement of joint, muscle and soft tissue disorders
Sleep MedicineDiagnosis and management of sleeping and breathing disorders
Thoracic MedicineManagement of lung disorders


Common Questions about physicians:

Q: How do physicians differ from specialists?
A: Physicians are often referred to as specialists, specialist physicians or consultant physicians and all these terms mean the same thing. All physicians may be referred to as specialists but not all specialists are physicians (for example, a surgeon is a specialist who has been trained in surgery and has been awarded Fellowship of the College of Surgeons).

Q: How do physicians differ from general practitioners (GP’s)?
A: In Australia and New Zealand a physician is a specialist in internal medicine who diagnoses and manages complex medical problems. Physicians complete at least six additional years of training after their basic medical degree and internship to specialise in a particular area of medicine. Physicians manage the medical problems of adults while paediatricians focus on children and adolescents. A general practitioner may also complete additional training but that will be undertaken through the Royal Australasian College of General Practitioners.

Some other countries, such as the United States, refer to all medical practitioners as physicians. In Australia and New Zealand, only specialists are referred to as physicians.

Q: Where do physicians work from?
A: Physicians work from many different types of workplaces including hospitals, private practice, from home offices, visiting workplaces, community medical centres, in research and in medical administration.

Q: How can a patient be managed by a physician?
A: Normally a patient’s GP will decide if they need to see a physician and will provide a letter of referral to the appropriate specialist for the condition. If a patient is admitted to hospital they may be managed by a physician from that hospital.