General Surgeon or Primary Care Doctor: What Are the Key Differences?

October 17, 2022
William Hanner D.O.

Here at Midtown Surgical and Skin Institute, one of the most common questions patients ask us is Can a general surgeon like Dr. Hanner provide primary care? What exactly should I expect, and what is the difference between a primary care doctor and a general surgeon?

To help you make an informed decision that eases your mind and ensures you get the compassionate, personalized care you deserve, here is a closer look at the similarities and differences between doctors and surgeons, and who provides what types of healthcare.

How Primary Care Doctors and General Surgeons Compare

If you are wondering what the difference is between a physician and a surgeon, you are not alone. Many patients ask about this, because these days there are many options to choose from as you go on your healthcare journey.

Both physicians and surgeons have similar training

First of all, it is worthwhile to note that in the U.S., all doctors experience similar training at the beginning of their time in medical school. They study anatomy and physiology and learn about how medicines can affect the body. They gain knowledge of how to read the results of various forms of medical tests and have a solid understanding of the everyday needs of patients.

Whether you see a primary care physician, an internist, a family doctor, a general surgeon or a specialist, you will be receiving care from people who have undergone much of the same training. All types of doctors and surgeons must pass licensing exams to practice in Oklahoma.

There are some differences between various areas where doctors may practice

Though all physicians start out learning the same set of medical knowledge and skills, they go on to choose an area where they wish to concentrate. When patients are considering who to see for their healthcare needs, it can be beneficial to ask the question: What do I need most in my doctor? 

If you need normal health screenings, immunizations, maintenance of chronic conditions, and treatment of common illnesses, you may opt to see a primary care doctor who provides general, basic healthcare; an internal medicine physician who concentrates on primary care for adults; or a family doctor, who can provide primary care for family members of all ages, from early childhood to the elderly.

For situations where a surgical procedure is necessary for treatment of a condition, patients may consider a general surgeon, who operates on the entire body, usually focusing on common conditions or needs, such as removal of the appendix, gallbladder care, colonoscopies and similar producers. Or there may be a need to see a specialist, someone who focuses on treating a specific organ or region of the body, such as the colon, the back, and the heart.

At times, patients may even spend most of their time with a nurse or a nurse practitioner—those who have training in assessing and assisting with common ailments and testing needs.

Regardless of who a patient sees, medical professionals (like our team!) are highly committed to providing good care. We all work hard in our own way to help people be well. 

Can a general surgeon perform primary care duties? Can primary physicians perform surgery?

While physicians and surgeons learn many of the same skills, their specializations mean that they focus on specific areas of care. Primary care doctors, internists and family physicians typically do not perform surgical procedures, and while general surgeons could provide primary care, they typically focus instead on surgical care and related services.

Though each type of doctor has an area they care to concentrate on, this does not mean there is a rivalry between them. Primary care physicians and surgeons collaborate to ensure patients get top care.

Who handles diagnosis: the physician, the surgeon, or both?

You may wonder what happens when you have symptoms that need diagnosis. Depending on the specific symptoms you are experiencing, both primary care physicians and surgeons diagnose patients all the time. Both will do testing and assessments to determine a patient’s needs.

Once the diagnosis is made, if surgery is needed, a surgeon can also perform the procedure. And for any diagnosis that may require a surgery (such as suspected appendicitis), your primary care physician will likely send you to a surgeon for a confirmation.

Should I see a board-certified doctor or surgeon?

A board-certified doctor or surgeon is definitely worth seeing for your health care needs. To understand the benefits, it helps to know what being board-certified means.

Simply put, board certification is the highest accreditation a doctor can hold in his or her given specialty. It is an additional level of credentials, beyond the normal internship, residency and general exams that all doctors must successfully complete before they are licensed to practice.

To earn board certification, doctors must first complete all the normal licensing procedures, and then they must undergo additional training in their specialty, proven expertise, and other testing. A board-certified physician will therefore be highly experienced in their chosen field, and they have successfully demonstrated both deep knowledge and strong clinical skills that prove their commitment to ongoing growth, and ensure they can offer top-level care to their patients.

Skilled General Surgeon in the Tulsa Area

When you are ready to call on a general surgeon, our team is here to give you top care. Dr. William Hanner is a board-certified general surgeon, with expertise in many areas, including colonoscopies, gallbladder treatment, skin surgeries, and other surgical needs.

We get to know you, treat you with compassion, and work with you to develop a personalized care plan that fits with your goals—so you can find the best solutions for your healthcare.

Reach out to let us know how we can assist you in your path to greater wellness. We’re here to help!

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