It has been said that a specialist knows more and more about less and less.

  • So when can a person call himself or herself a specialist? 
  • How small a piece of the human body do you have to limit your work to in order to be considered a specialist?

Specialty refers to advanced training. Today, all residency-trained physicians are considered specialists, even if the specialty is a primary care specialty. "Subspecialty physicians" refers to people who have done a residency and then chosen to continue training in a particular aspect of their specialty field - such as an internal medicine physician continuing in an oncology fellowship.

How is a specialty or a subspecialty defined?

There is a difference in the focus and in the role of the primary care specialist.
  • Specialists see patients as the first interaction within the healthcare system. 
  • Subspecialists typically see the patient after an initial interaction with another doctor and after a diagnosis has been made. They tend to focus on one aspect of a person’s care, one organ system, one problem area, one gender or one type of intervention. 

Primary care physicians are able to provide comprehensive care to a person. Their focus is on the personal health of an individual.  They are the professionals with whom people first interface when entering into the medical system. And a primary care physician implies a professional who will have an ongoing, longitudinal relationship with a patient, and a coordinating role for how that patient will interact with the health care system.