The Growing Role Of Specialization In Modern Medicine

Specialized medicine – the concept of taking healthcare and dividing it among several different areas of focus – has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks. However, limitations in knowledge and resources meant that, for thousands of years, individual physicians did it all. Setting broken bones on Monday, diagnosing infectious disease on Tuesday, performing brain surgery on Wednesday, and so forth.

We’ve come a long way since then. The rapid advancement of medical science over the last 150 years has led to dozens of specialties. And unlike the way it worked in the past, doctors are increasingly expected to pick a single specialization and stick to it throughout their careers. While general practitioners still exist, they rely on specialists to provide patients with the best healthcare outcomes possible.

As modern medicine continues to advance, existing splits among specializations become further divided. In addition to the 40 specialties currently recognized by the ABSM, the board also recognizes 87 subspecialties and counting. The result is added pressure on MDs to zero-in on a particular aspect of medicine and focus on that area of expertise.

Ophthalmology, which deals with disorders of the eye, has become increasingly complex in recent decades. As a result, more ophthalmologists have chosen to become highly-specialized. For example, Dr. Charles Manger of focuses solely on LASIK eye surgery. The Orange County-based practice sticks to laser vision correction and nothing else.  

It’s a trend being seen across all medical specialties. For instance, neurosurgery is broken up into several subspecialties. These include pediatric, neuro-oncology, and traumatology. Most neurosurgeons today choose to focus on one of these ultra-specialized forms of nervous system surgery. Even brain surgeons aren’t immune from the growing complexity of modern medical science.

While the diversity of medical specialty is a modern marvel in the eyes of experts, it’s a common source of contention for patients. Many people used to a single doctor for the majority of their health concerns are troubled by getting sent to several different specialists. To these men and women, refined medical expertise provided in an efficient manner comes off as sterile and impersonal.

The challenges facing the medical specialists of today are the same ones that have faced general practitioners for thousands of years. Providing advanced medical care while acknowledging the patient’s mental wellness is the core of good bedside manner. Whether it’s a dermatologist, ophthalmologist, neurosurgeon, or some other type of specialist, doctors are under the same standards that have been in existence since the time of Hippocrates.

Continuing advancements in healthcare will no doubt further split the already varied specialties of medical science. However, it would be wrong to mistake division for disagreement and disarray. The opposite is true; modern medicine is more united than ever, despite the varying disciplines. The more that medical science branches off in different directions, the more precise and targeted the treatment options become. As a result, the more efficient the process of diagnosing and treating disease will become.

Even better, the process will continue to start by visiting your primary care provider i.e. your personal doctor. Only instead of having the same person who cleans your ears also administer spinal taps, you’re relying on a network of specialists with refined skills and expertise.



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Written by HealthStatus Crew
Medical Writer & Editor

HealthStatus teams with authors from organizations to share interesting ideas, products and new health information to our readers.

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