What is medicine? Definition, fields, and branches
Medicine is the field of health and healing. It includes nurses, doctors, and various specialists. It covers diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, medical research, and many other aspects of health.
Medicine aims to promote and maintain health and wellbeing.
Conventional modern medicine is sometimes called allopathic medicine. It involves the use of drugs or surgery, often supported by counseling and lifestyle measures.
Alternative and complementary types of medicine include acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine, art therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, and many more.
Modern medicine has many fields and aspects. Here are some of them.
A clinician is a health worker who works directly with patients in a hospital or other healthcare setting. Nurses, doctors, psychotherapists, and other specialists are all clinicians.
Not all medical specialists are clinicians. Researchers and laboratory workers are not clinicians because they do not work with patients.
The physician assesses the individual, with the aim of diagnosing, treating, and preventing disease using knowledge learned from training, research, and experiences, and clinical judgment.
This area of science seeks ways to prevent and treat diseases that lead to illness or death.
Biomedical scientists use biotechnology techniques to study biological processes and diseases. They aim to develop successful treatments and cures.
Biomedical research requires careful experimentation, development, and evaluation. It involves biologists, chemists, doctors, pharmacologists, and others.
This field looks at drugs or medicines and how to use them.
Doctors and other health professionals use medications in the medical diagnosis, treatment, cure, and prevention of disease.
Surgical procedures are necessary for diagnosing and treating some types of disease, malfomation, and injury. They use instrumental and manual means rather than medication.
A surgeon may carry out a surgical procedure to remove or replace diseased tissue or organs, or they may use surgery to remove tissue for biopsy. Sometimes, they remove unwanted tissue and then send it for diagnosis.
Health professionals use a wide range of instruments to diagnose and treat a disease or other condition, to prevent a worsening of symptoms, to replace a damaged part — such as a hip or a knee — and so on.
Medical devices range from test tubes to sophisticated scanning machines.
Alternative and complementary medicine
This includes any practice that aims to heal but is not part of conventional medicine. Techniques range widely. They include the use of herbs, manipulation of “channels” in the body, relaxation, and so on.
Alternative and complementary do not have the same meaning:
Alternative medicine: People use a different option from the conventional one, such as using relaxation measures to improve headaches, rather than pain relief medication.
Complementary medicine: People add another treatment option to a main treatment. For example, they may use relaxation as well as pain relief medication for a headache.
Alternative and complementary therapies are often based on traditional knowledge, rather than scientific evidence or clinical trials.
Examples include homeopathy, acupuncture, ayurveda, naturopathic medicine, and traditional Chinese medicine.
Researchers carry out investigations to find out which diseases are present, why they occur, what can treat or prevent them, what makes them more likely to happen, and many other aspects of health.
Clinical trials are one aspect of clinical research. They aim to find out if a therapy — often a drug — is safe and effective to use when treating a specific condition.
The most effective way to demonstrate the effectiveness of a drug or technique is to carry out a double-blind, random, long-term, large clinical human study.
In this type of study, researchers compare the effect of a therapy or drug in with either a placebo, no treatment, or another therapy or drug.
Counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and other forms of “talking cure” can be helpful for people with conditions that affect their mental health, ranging from depression to stress to chronic pain.
Physical and occupational therapy
These treatments do not involve medication, although a person may use medication alongside them.
Physical therapy can help improve strength and flexibility in people who have a condition that affects their musculoskeletal system.
Occupational therapy can teach people new and better ways to do things physically. A person who has had a stroke, for example, may benefit from learning again how to walk, using techniques that perhaps they did not use before.
Other fields of medicine include pharmacology and pharmacy, nursing, speech therapy, medical practice management, and many more.
There are many branches in medicine. Here are some of them.
Anatomy: This is the study of the physical structure of the body.
Biochemistry: A biochemist studies chemical components and how they affect the body.
Biomechanics: This focuses on the structure of biological systems in the body and how they work, using a mechanical approach.
Biostatistics: Researchers apply statistics to biological fields. This is crucial for successful medical research and many areas of medical practice.
Biophysics: This uses physics, mathematics, chemistry, and biology to model and understand the workings of biological systems.
Cytology: This is a branch of pathology that involves the medical and scientific microscopic study of cells.
Embryology: This branch of biology studies the formation, early growth, and development of organisms.
Endocrinology: Scientists investigate hormones and their impact on the body.
Epidemiology: Researchers track the causes, distribution, and control of diseases in populations.
Genetics: This is the study of genes and their impact on health and the body.
Histology: This involves looking at the form of structures under the microscope. It is also known as microscopic anatomy.
Microbiology: This is the study of organisms that are too small to see with the naked eye, known as microorganisms. Aspects of microbiology include bacteriology, virology, mycology (the study of fungi), and parasitology.
Neuroscience: Neuroscientists study the nervous system and the brain and investigate diseases of the nervous system. Aspects of neuroscience include computational modeling and psychophysics. Some types of neuroscience are cognitive neuroscience, cellular neuroscience, and molecular neuroscience.
Nutrition: Nutritionists study how food and drink influence health, and how they can help treat, cure, and prevent different diseases and conditions.
Pathology: This is the study of disease. A pathologist often works in a laboratory, where they do tests — usually on a sample of blood, urine, or body tissue — to help diagnose diseases and conditions.
Pharmacology: This involves the study of pharmaceutical medications, or drugs, where they come from, how they work, how the body responds to them, and what they consist of.
Radiology: Radiologists use X-rays and scanning equipment during the diagnostic procedure, and sometimes as part of treatment, too.
Toxicology: A toxicologist studies poisons, what they are, what effects they have on the body, and how to detect them.
These are not all the aspects and fields of medicine. Many people work in patient transportation, dentistry, not to mention the many different specialties that physicians can choose to follow, such as emergency medicine.
For anyone who is considering medicine as a career, there are a wide variety of options.
Qualifications, aptitude, and preference will make a particular field more attractive or suitable to an individual.