AskDefine | Define physician

Dictionary Definition

physician n : a licensed medical practitioner; "I felt so bad I went to see my doctor" [syn: doctor, doc, MD, Dr., medico]

User Contributed Dictionary



From fisicien (physician) < fisique (art of healing) < Latin physica (natural science) < Greek φυσική επιστήμη (knowledge of nature) < φυσικός (pertaining to nature) < φύσις (nature) < φύειν (to bring forth, to produce) < Proto-Indo-European base *bheu- (to exist, to grow).


  1. A practitioner of physic, i.e. a specialist in internal medicine, especially as opposed to a surgeon; a practitioner who treats with medication rather than with surgery.
  2. A medical doctor trained in human medicine.


medical doctor

Extensive Definition

distinguish Physicistportal Medicine A physician, medical practitioner or medical doctor is a person who practices medicine and is concerned with maintaining or restoring human health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease and injury. This is accomplished through a detailed knowledge of anatomy, physiology, diseases and treatment - the science of medicine - and its applied practice - the art or craft of medicine.


The word physician comes from an ancient Greek noun φύσις (physis) and its derived adjective physikos, meaning "nature" and "natural". From this, amongst other derivatives came the Vulgar Latin physicus, which meant a doctor of medicine. After the Norman Conquest, the word entered Middle English via Old French fisicien, as early as 1100. Originally, physician meant a practitioner of physic (pronounced with a hard C). This archaic noun had entered Middle English by 1300 (via Old French fisique). Physic meant the art or science of treatment with drugs or medications (as opposed to surgery), and was later used both as a verb and also to describe the medications themselves.
In English, there have been many synonyms for physician, both old and new, with some semantic variation. The noun phrase medical practitioner is perhaps the most widely understood and neutral synonym. Medical practitioner is lengthy but inclusive: it covers both medical specialists and general practitioners (family physician, family practitioner), and historically would include physicians (in the narrow sense), surgeons or apothecaries. In England, apothecaries historically included those who now would be called general practitioners and pharmacists.
The term doctor (medical doctor) is older and shorter (see doctor of medicine), but can be confused with holders of other academic doctorates. Doctor (gen.: doctoris) means teacher in Latin and is a contraction of the Greek διδάκτωρ (didaktōr, teacher), from the verb διδάσκειν (didaskein, to teach). In French, médecin (doctor, physician) is a contraction of docteur médecin, a direct equivalent of doctor of medicine. In current French idiom, the term toubib, is now a synonym, derived from Arabic طبيب (tabīb, physician).
The Greek word ιατρός (iatros, doctor or healer) is often translated as physician. Ιατρός is not preserved directly in English, but occurs in such formations as psychiatrist (translates from Greek as healer of the soul), podiatrist (foot healer), and iatrogenic disease (a disease caused by medical treatment). In Latin, medicus meant much what physician or doctor does now. Compare these translations of a well-known proverb (the nouns are in vocative case):
Ἰατρέ, θεράπευσον σεαυτόν (Greek New Testament: Luke, 4:23) Medice, cura tiepsum (from the Vulgate, early 5th century) Physician, heal thyself (from the Authorized King James Version, 1611) The ancient Romans also had the word archiater, for court physician. Archiater derives from the ancient Greek αρχίατρος (from ἄρχω + ίατρος, chief healer). By contraction, this title has given modern German its word for physician: arzt.
Leech and leechcraft are archaic English words respectively for doctor and medicine.
This older usage is at least six hundred years old in English; physicians and surgeons were once members of separate professions, and traditionally were rivals. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, gives a Middle English quotation making this contrast, from as early as 1400:

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Doctor of Medicine, GP, MD, Md, allopath, allopathist, attending physician, bones, coroner, country doctor, croaker, doc, doctor, family doctor, general practitioner, house physician, intern, leech, man, medic, medical, medical attendant, medical examiner, medical man, medical practitioner, medico, physician in ordinary, practitioner, resident, resident physician, sawbones, specialist, surgeon
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