3 Main Differences Between Physicians and Surgeons

3 Main Differences Between Physicians and Surgeons

MedicusUnion Team
MedicusUnion Team

October 27, 2023

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Physicians focus on diagnosing and treating medical conditions through non-invasive methods, emphasizing preventive care and long-term patient management. In contrast, surgeons specialize in performing surgical procedures, utilizing operative interventions to address specific health issues. While both share a commitment to patient well-being, their primary roles diverge in treatment approaches, with physicians emphasizing holistic care and surgeons focusing on hands-on, procedural solutions.

In the world of medicine, the roles and responsibilities of healthcare professionals can sometimes be a bit unclear, especially when it comes to the distinctions between physicians and surgeons. Both are crucial components of the healthcare system, each with distinct roles, expertise, and areas of specialization. In this article, we will explore the three main differences between physicians and surgeons, shedding light on their unique roles within the medical field.

What is a Physician?

A doctor with a medical degree is referred to as a "physician" in general. Physicians investigate, diagnose, and treat illnesses and injuries in an effort to preserve, promote, and restore health.

What is a Surgeon?

A surgeon is a medical professional who focuses on diagnosing and treating illnesses that may call for surgery or other physical alterations to the human body. Surgeons oversee a group of other medical professionals and nurses in the operating room to make sure that an operation goes without a hitch.

Education and Training

One of the primary differences between physicians and surgeons lies in their education and training. Physicians typically go through a more extensive and general education process compared to surgeons. Here's a breakdown of their educational paths:


  • After completing a bachelor's degree, aspiring physicians attend medical school, which typically takes four years.
  • They then undertake a residency program that lasts for three to seven years, depending on their chosen specialty. During this time, they receive comprehensive training in diagnosing and treating various medical conditions.
  • Physicians often specialize in areas such as internal medicine, family medicine, cardiology, pediatrics, and more.


  • Surgeons also attend medical school after earning a bachelor's degree, typically lasting four years.
  • However, their education diverges during their residency, where they focus specifically on surgical procedures.
  • Surgical residencies can be quite rigorous and demanding, often lasting five to seven years. Surgeons gain expertise in a particular surgical field, such as orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, or general surgery.

Scope of Practice

Another key difference between physicians and surgeons is the scope of their practice. Physicians maintain a wide scope of practice, allowing them to specialize in various medical fields such as internal medicine, pediatrics, cardiology, dermatology, and numerous others. They focus on diagnosing and managing medical conditions through non-surgical means. Physicians often serve as primary care doctors or specialists who provide medical treatment, prescribe medications, and recommend lifestyle changes to improve a patient's health.

On the other hand, surgeons have a narrower scope of practice that centers primarily on surgical interventions.Surgeons concentrate their expertise on particular surgical disciplines, such as orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, cardiothoracic surgery, and other specialized areas. Their proficiency lies in executing surgical procedures to address injuries, illnesses, and other medical conditions necessitating operative measures. They  often work closely with physicians to determine when surgery is necessary and collaborate to provide comprehensive patient care.

Patient Interaction and Follow-up Care

Physicians tend to be more engaged with patients, often serving as the first point of contact for patients seeking medical treatment. They build long-term relationships with patients by providing ongoing care, managing chronic illnesses, and providing preventive services. Physicians are focused on communication, patient education, and non-surgical treatment choices.

Surgeons, meanwhile, typically have a shorter period of interaction with patients, mostly related to surgical consultations and postoperative care. Surgeons assess the patient's condition, determine the need for surgery, perform the surgery, and monitor the course of the postoperative period. Although surgeons provide the necessary follow-up care, their attention is focused primarily on the surgical aspect of treatment. 

Final Thoughts

In summary, although both physicians and surgeons are an integral part of the medical field, they differ significantly in their training, scope of practice, and interactions with patients. Understanding these differences is essential for making informed decisions about your healthcare needs.

If you have questions or concerns about your health and need guidance from a medical professional, book an online consultation on MedicusUnion. Our team of experienced physicians and specialists is ready to assist you

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