Medicine provides a myriad of practice options, ranging from the traditional private practice to large academic medical centers with hundreds of affiliated physicians. Obtaining a basic understanding of the types of practice settings available ensures you'll be equipped to choose a setting that suits your career and personal objectives.

Doctor meeting with patients
Doctor examining a baby

In caring for patients, the focus is providing health care using cutting-edge technology, evidence-based medicine, and intensive, specialized services. Physicians can choose to see patients for as much as 100 percent of their time and as little as none at all. The specialty as well as type and location of practice you choose influences how much time is available to and required of you to spend caring for patients. While many choose medicine as a profession because they want to care for patients, it's only one of the types of work physicians can do.

Vials in laboratory

Research as a practice option involves conducting biomedical, behavioral, clinical, and health services research to understand underlying scientific, technological, economic, and social determinants to better prevent, diagnose, and treat disease, to improve patient outcomes and deliver better health care services. In academic settings, tenure and non-tenure track research paths are available for roles such as basic scientists and translational and clinical investigators. Many education, training and funding opportunities are available for M.D. and M.D./Ph.D. students considering a research career.

Small class seated at a table

Teaching is a practice option that involves instructing medical students, residents, fellows, students in other health professions, and established physicians. Activities include teaching basic science courses to first- and second-year medical students, teaching clinical skills to third- and fourth-year students, supervising medical student research projects, focused training of residents in their chosen specialty, and providing continuing medical education courses for practicing physicians. Over the past few decades, focus on teaching has intensified.

Two doctors meet with an administrator

Being an administrator involves leading, managing, and supporting health care departments or organizations to achieve the education, research, and patient care goals of the institution. The size, complexity, and mission of various health care organizations (e.g. hospital systems, academic medical centers, practice groups, insurance companies) require help from experienced physicians with varying roles.

Hospital sign

"Practice setting" refers to the types of organizations (e.g., private practice, hospital) as well as types of geographical locations (e.g., urban, rural) where physicians can practice. The characteristics that define each type of organization and geographical location vary and, consequently, affect the care you'll provide. When you choose your practice setting, you'll choose both a type of organization and geographic location.