Unless you grew up in a family of health professionals, it is so hard to understand medical lingo. I grew up in a family with very distant doctors and both my parents are not in the health field at all. So when I started medical school there was a bunch of random stuff I had no idea about. This is a way to throw out some basic things you might come across.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE EMERGENCY ROOM AND EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT

When you actually start working during your 3rd and 4th years this can be important. I myself never ran into anyone who really cared about the difference but I have heard other students who experienced otherwise. So just for basic knowledge purposes, the ER or the emergency room is traditionally the location where all the ER beds and patients are hanging out waiting to be treated. Traditionally it was referred to as the ER because doctors would come down to the ER to take care of the sick patients. As more and more time progressed, people realized that there were patients coming into the ER who were really sick and needed treatment as soon as possible. This paved the way for future Emergency Medicine doctors. As Emergency Medicine became a specialty, the ER continued to be the location where the patients were but in an attempt to elaborate better the term Emergency Department came about. The Emergency Department includes the ER and also the Emergency Medicine doctors that work in the ER to provide care for their patients. Most people do not care about the difference between the ER and ED but in case you are ever asked this question you will know how to answer it. Also, many students like writing about their experience in the ED on their personal statements so now you know how to use both terms properly. I highly doubt anyone would really ding you as a premed student but just something you should know. Many students like talking about their experiences in the ER during their interviews so just to be a little conscientious I would go ahead and use the term Emergency Department.

WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH THE WORDS DOCTOR AND PHYSICIAN?

This is one of those ridiculous things. A physician is just a fancy way of saying doctor. For the lay people I use the word doctor and for those in the health field I use the word physician. It is that simple and honestly I do not think it matters one way or another.

For example if someone has a kidney stone when I talk to the patient I will use the phrase “kidney stone” but when I go talk to the Residents or Attending I will use the fancy word “nephrolithiasis” which means kidney stones. Every field has basic words that they use for the general public and then a whole another set of “language” for those in the field. If you are writing your personal statement, I would try to use the word Physician because it sounds better and will come across as you know some things about the different terms in Medicine.

WHAT IS AN ATTENDING?

I did not realize that people in the general public had no idea what this word means until my sister asked me the other day. She said that she met an Attending but had no idea what kind of doctor that is. An Attending is someone that has finished their residency and is the highest level of that specific specialty. So if someone is going into Family Medicine, they have 3 years of Residency (training) to complete. Once they finish those three years and start working they would be called an Attending. But on the other hand, someone going into Surgery has a 5 year Residency so after 3 years this person is still not called an Attending. After 5 years of Residency, they would be called an Attending. Now if that is not confusing enough let me add another level to the lingo. Let me use Internal Medicine as an example. Internal Medicine is a 3 year Residency but after Residency you can do a Fellowship. A Fellowship is further training in a specialized area. So a Cancer doctor (Oncologist) first does 3 years of Internal Medicine Residency and then goes on to do a 2 or 3 year Fellowship in Oncology. During the Fellowship years, the person is called a “Fellow” and not an Attending. When they are done with their Fellowship then they would be called an Attending. An Attending is pretty much the term that is used after you are done with all of your training. You could work as an Attending for a couple of years and decide to go back to train again but since you would be in a training program you would be called a Residency again. I was super confused by this because during undergrad I did shadowing in a Family Medicine office where there were just Family Medicine physicians and no fellows or residents.

FAMILY MEDICINE VS. INTERNAL MEDICINE

This is confusing for folks because when you go to see your doctor, he/she is usually a Family Physician or an Internist. You might be thinking whoa there, we just talked about what an Intern is and that is someone in their first year of Residency. Yes that is true. However, a doctor who is in Internal Medicine is called an Internist and someone starting their first year of training is called an Intern. Alright so what is the difference between a Family Physician and an Internist? A Family Physician usually works in an office and sees patients of all ages: babies, children, teens, adults, and elderly. Whenever you have a concern that is not an emergency, you can go and see your Family Physician. Also, you see your Family Physician for routine appointments for general check ups in order to stay healthy. Preventative care is the cornerstone of Family Medicine and these are the physicians that are usually the first line of people you see for a problem you have. An Internist specializes in Adult medicine and does not normally work with kids. An Internist can do all that a Family Physician does for adults but does not normally take care of kids. You are probably thinking at this point if they both do pretty much the same thing, then what is the difference? Someone that goes to Internal Medicine Residency training spends a lot more time learning about patients in the hospital whereas Family Medicine Residency training is focused a little bit more on seeing patients in the clinic. Internal Medicine has a bit more focus on taking care of patients coming into the hospital with multiple different problems and managing these patients when they are at their sickest. However, I have seen many Family Medicine physicians take care of very sick patients in the hospital so it is not to say that they could not take care of you in the hospital because a bunch of them do. Another difference is that if you would like to specialize in a specific field like Oncology or Pulmonary you first do a Residency in Internal Medicine and then you go on to do a Fellowship in that specific area. These specialties are unfortunately not offered after a Family Medicine Residency so it is something to consider if you are trying to decide between Family Medicine and Internal Medicine.