What's the Difference Between a General Practitioner and an Orthopaedic Surgeon?

If you’re experiencing joint pain, you may encounter a general practitioner and an orthopaedic surgeon. Find out how they are alike, and how they are different.

October 5, 2020 | 3 min read

With over 120 fields of medicine, it can be hard to understand what makes them different. If you’re experiencing joint pain, two that you might encounter are a general practitioner and an orthopaedic surgeon. This article is designed to review the similarities and differences between these two fields of medicine.

General practitioners (GPs) are broadly-skilled doctors who tend to treat a little bit of everything. From kids to adults, fevers to wellness checks, GPs end up building long-term relationships with their patients over the course of their lifetime.2 Sometimes, there’s a misconception that doctors become general practitioners because they couldn’t get into another area of medicine, which is far from the case. General practice is a chosen career path, as is any other specialty area.1

Specialists typically see patients with a specific condition or a problem with a specific part of the body.2 Orthopaedic surgeons, for example, are specialists who treat diseases, injuries, and deformities that occur in the joints, muscles, and bones.3

There are many similarities between these two fields. The main difference is what happens after they receive their medical degree. The below chart highlights the similarities and differences between a general practitioner and an orthopaedic surgeon. 

Both types of doctors receive similar undergraduate and graduate educations. While the general practitioner receives further education in the overall wellness of a patient, the specialist focuses his or her attention to one area.  Both are great resources if you are experiencing pain. If your general practitioner has referred you to a specialist, hopefully this article helps you understand the differences between the two and a little of what you can expect from your orthopaedic surgeon.  

  1. Wilson, P. (2019). Are You Going to Be a Specialist? Or Just a GP? Huff Post. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/myths-about-general-practitioners_n_3937618
  2. Decker, Fred (2018, Mar 16). The Difference Between a Physician & a Surgeon. Work - Chron.com. http://work.chron.com/difference-between-physician-surgeon-7526.html
  3. Fazio, Tim Dr, “Becoming a doctor”. 2015. https://ama.com.au/careers/becoming-a-doctor#:~:text=Taking%20any%20science%20pre%2Drequisites,stead%20as%20you%20study%20medicine.
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