Specialty Care Providers

After completing their schooling, some medical professionals decide to refine their skills and pursue an area of medical specialty rather than stay in general practice. These specialty care providers can choose to concentrate in one or more of a wide variety of disease categories, certain types of patients, or particular methods of treatment. They may also seek out teaching positions in medical education settings and undertake research activities in their chosen areas of specialization. Becoming skilled in a particular area of care requires the “completion of a university-level degree in basic medical education plus postgraduate clinical training in a medical specialization or equivalent” (World Health Organization, 2013, p. 2). Although specialists must spend quite a bit more time being educated than generalists do, the work of a specialist is rewarding in many ways. Here are some of the most common specialty care areas:

Areas of Specialty Care

• Allergy and immunology

• Anesthesiology

• Cardiology

• Chiropractic

• Dermatology

• Endocrinology

• Gastroenterology

• General surgery

• Geriatrics

• Hematology

• Immunology

• Infectious disease

• Medical genetics

• Nephrology

• Neurology

• Neurosurgery

• Obstetrics and gynecology

• Oncology

• Ophthalmology

• Orthopedics

• Otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat specialists)

• Pathology

• Pediatrics

• Physiatry

• Plastic surgery

• Podiatry

• Pulmonary

• Radiology

• Rheumatology

• Urology

Dentists, Dental Hygienists, and Dental Assistants

Dentists, registered dental hygienists, and dental assistants provide care and treatment to promote and restore oral health, which is a vital component of a person's overall health status.


A dentist (this term includes oral and maxillofacial surgeons) diagnoses, treats, and prevents diseases, injuries, and abnormalities of the teeth, mouth, and jaws. Dentists make use of a wide range of specialized diagnostic, surgical, pharmacological, and other approaches either to promote or to restore oral health (World Health Organization, 2013). The majority of dentists work in a general practice, handling both routine and emergency dental cases. Others, however, choose to specialize within dentistry and to work primarily in pediatric care, periodontics (gum and jaw diseases), prosthodontics (bridges, crowns, dentures), or endodontics (root canal treatment). Each of these professionals is highly trained to provide preventive and restorative care, with the overarching goal of promoting good oral hygiene (Quan, 2007).


A specialist in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of injuries to and diseases of the teeth, mouth, and jaws.

Dental Hygienists

The dental hygienist is an important member of the dental health care team. Working closely with dentists, hygienists have duties that go well beyond the cleaning of teeth, as they also conduct assessments and examinations of patients for oral diseases such as oral cancers and gingivitis. In some states (the allowable duties vary by state), dental hygienists are allowed to provide some types of dental services, take impressions, place temporary fillings, take X-rays, and apply fluorides and sealants, and they may also be certified to administer local anesthesia prior to further care being performed by the dentist They are a critical link in the overall patient care process, and they often take the lead in patient education, sharing their knowledge regarding ways to improve and maintain high levels of oral health (Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS], 2013a).

dental hygienist

A health care professional who provides preventive dental care and patient education.

Dental Assistants

The dental assistant is also a vital member of the dental care team. These individuals assist dentists with patient care; however, they cannot perform teeth cleaning or most of the other duties of the dental hygienists. They also take care of many laboratory and day-to-day general office tasks, which keeps the facility running smoothly and ensures that it is organized, clean, and well stocked with needed supplies. In many states dental assistants can retrieve records, prepare, and set out the instruments the dentists will need for each patient, and clean and sterilize various types of equipment, as well as hand instruments to the dentist during a procedure. Other common duties of the dental assistant are to make and confirm appointments, to organize dental records, to inventory supplies, and (in some cases) to send out bills and assist in the processing of payments (Quan, 2007).

dental assistant

A member of the dental care team who assists the dentist in providing services.

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