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What Does an Allopathic Physician Do?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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An allopathic physician or medical doctor (MD) practices a biologically based approach to treating disease and injury. Allopathic medicine is a term that refers to conventional medical practice, also called Western or modern medicine. Such a physician uses pharmacological agents or other physical intervention to diagnose, treat, and prevent the symptoms and processes of illness and other conditions. Other duties include examining patients, ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests, and collecting and reviewing medical histories.

For most people who live in the western world, an allopathic physician is the type of doctor that is most familiar. An MD usually works in a clinic, hospital, or private office where he or she sees and examines patients. They work to prevent and heal illness and injury by consulting a patient’s medical history as well as ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests. Many specialize, working for example specifically with children or treating a certain type of cancer.

An allopathic physician’s typical contact with a patient begins when the patient makes an appointment. The appointment could be for a routine physical exam, a vaccination, or to have symptoms evaluated and a condition diagnosed. The MD will usually start by listening to the patient describe the reason for the appointment and then follow with an examination, a review of medical history, and diagnostic tests if necessary. All of these pieces of information are used by an allopathic physician when attempting to reach a definitive diagnosis.

Once a diagnosis is made, the MD will often recommend a treatment plan that can but does not always include pharmaceutical drugs. If surgery or further examination by a specialist is required, the patient is then referred. In emergency situations, an MD may not be able to speak with or obtain the consent of a patient before treatment. In such cases, the physician often has to make a judgment about how best to proceed, perhaps consulting with colleagues.

Rather than work directly with patients, some allopathic physicians teach or do research in laboratories. Such research can be funded by a government, a private company, or other source. Research topics vary widely from discovering the cause of a particular condition to finding a cure for an illness.

A person planning to become an allopathic physician in the United States or Canada must first earn a bachelor’s degree before completing medical school. Most medical school prerequisite courses are dominated by the sciences including general and organic chemistry, physics, and biology. Biochemistry, calculus, and a behavioral science like psychology may also be required. Additionally, a medical school usually requires an applicant to take an aptitude test like the Medical College Admission Test® or MCAT® and to spend time shadowing a working allopathic physician.

In the United States, medical schools require four years of coursework beyond an undergraduate degree. The first two years are usually preclinical during which the students focus on classroom and laboratory instruction in subjects like physiology, pharmacology, and biochemistry. The last two years are the clinical phase. The students are placed in teaching hospitals or similar environments where they work with patients under the supervision of attending physicians. After graduating, students cannot practice as allopathic physicians on their own until they finish an internship.

Homeopath Samuel Hahnemann coined the term allopathic medicine in approximately 1810. It is commonly used by advocates of alternative medicine when referring pejoratively to conventional or allopathic physicians, many of whom have never accepted the label. While homeopathy is based on the belief that disease can be treated with diluted solutions that should produce similar symptoms in a healthy person, an allopathic physician is trained in and primarily relies on pharmacological treatments that produce effects different from those of the illness or injury.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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