What does a Physician do?

Physicians diagnose and treat human diseases and injuries and practice preventive medicine. Some also conduct research and/or teach in medical schools. There are currently five medical schools in Virginia–four allopathic schools with physicians receiving M.D. degrees or Doctor of Medicine and one osteopathic school having physicians receiving D.O. degrees or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine.

Osteopathic medicine is the philosophy and system of alternative medical practice emphasizing the interrelationship between structure and function of the body and recognizing its ability to heal itself using the practitioner to facilitate that process. Allopathic medicine is the practice of conventional medicine that uses pharmacologically active agents or physical interventions to treat or suppress symptoms or pathophysiologic processes of diseases or conditions. Allopathic medicine often refers to the broad category of medical practice that is sometimes called Western medicine, biomedicine, evidence-based medicine or modern medicine.

What might a Physician do in a workday?

Specialists diagnose and treat illnesses, conditions and/or injuries related to a specific branch of medicine or part of the human body. Descriptions of some medical specialties are:

  • Anesthesiologists administer anesthesia (numbness or sleep) to patients who undergo surgery.
  • Cardiologists treat heart diseases.
  • Dermatologists treat skin conditions.
  • Gastroenterologists diagnose and treat disorders of the digestive system.
  • Geriatricians specialize in the specific health care needs of the elderly.
  • Gynecologists educate patients in the prevention and treatment of disorders of the female reproductive system.
  • Neurologists specialize in brain and central nervous system disorders.
  • Obstetricians care for pregnant women and deliver babies.
  • Oncologists treat patients with cancer.
  • Ophthalmologists diagnose and treat eye disorders.
  • Orthopedists educate patients in the prevention of skeletal deformities or ailments and treat these ailments.
  • Osteopathic physicians emphasize a whole-person approach to patient care that emphasizes wellness and prevention. D.O.s often use a system of hands-on diagnosis and treatment called osteopathic manipulative medicine that can reduce pain, increase range of motion and contribute to overall health by improving the body’s structure and functions.
  • Pathologists interpret and diagnose changes in tissue caused by disease.
  • Physiatrists specialize in physical and rehabilitative medicine.
  • Psychiatrists educate patients in the prevention of mental illnesses, and study and treat mental illnesses.
  • Pulmonologists treat lungs and respiratory systems.
  • Sports medicine physicians treat and help prevent athletic injuries.
  • Surgeons perform operations to correct deformities, repair injuries, treat diseases and improve functions of patients. Among the many subspecialties are neurosurgery (brain), orthopedic surgery (bones) and cardiothoracic surgery (hearts and lungs).
  • Urologists treat urinary tract disorders.
  • Radiation oncologists oversee care of patients undergoing radiation therapy.

How much salary do Physicians make?

Annual Mean Wage

How do I become a Physician?

Students interested in becoming physicians should take the most challenging high school courses available in science, math and English. To enter medical school, students must have a bachelor’s degree with a high grade point average in a premedical program or other related major. They must pass a national examination (MCAT) and undergo extensive interviews.

Upon completion of medical school, the M.D. or D.O. degree is granted. Most physicians then enter postgraduate training (internships and residencies), receiving specialized instruction and practice. The length of postgraduate training is determined by the area of specialty.

Where else can I learn about becoming a Physician?

Professional Associations:

Medical Society of Virginia
2924 Emerywood Parkway
Suite 300
Richmond, VA 23294-3746
(800) 746-6768

American Osteopathic Association
142 E. Ontario Street
Chicago, IL 60611
(800) 621-1773

American Medical Association
330 N Wabash Avenue
Suite 39300
Chicago, IL 60611
(800) 621-8335

American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine
a. 7700 Gerogetown Rd
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 968-4100
b. 500 New Jersey Ave
Suite 380 
Washington, DC 20001
(617) 612-2880

Association of American Medical Colleges
55 K St NW
Suite 100
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 828-0400

State License Requirements for Physicians

A license is required to practice as a Physician in the state of Virginia. For more information on licensure, applications and forms, visit

Virginia Board of Medicine
Perimeter Center
9960 Mayland Drive
Suite 300
Henrico, VA 23233
Phone: (804) 367-4600

Find Local Support

Blue Ridge Region AHEC – Shenandoah Valley

Capital Region AHEC – Richmond Metro and surrounding areas

Eastern Virginia Region AHEC – Southeast Virginia and Peninsula

Northern Virginia Region AHEC – Northern Virginia

Rappahannock Region AHEC – Northern Neck, Fredericksburg, and Middle Peninsula

South Central Region AHEC – Lynchburg, Danville, and surrounding area

Southside Region AHEC – South of Richmond

Southwest Virginia Region AHEC – Roanoke Valley and West