In this remit we discuss medical specialists – what they do, how they do it, what they are called.


Women’s health

This specialist treats the parts of a woman’s body that are concerned with sex and having babies.

A gynaecologist

A baby is born

This specialist delivers babies and takes care of the mother during and immediately after the period of her pregnancy.

An obstetrician

Newborn babies and young children

This specialist limits his or her practice to youngsters, taking care of babies directly after birth, including intensive-care treatment for premature babies. He/she supervises the baby’s diet and watches over its growth and development, giving the series of inoculations that has done so much to decrease infant mortality.  He/she has extensive knowledge of the common infectious diseases of childhood, such as mumps, as well as the rare ones such as meningitis.

A paediatrician

Skin clear?

You have heard the classic riddle: ‘What is the best use for pigskin?’ answer: ‘To keep the pig together.’ Human skin has a similar purpose: it is what keeps us all in one piece, and protects our insides from the outside world.  And our outer covering is subject to diseases and infections of various kinds, running the gamut from harmless spots to fatal cancer.  There is a specialist who treats all such skin diseases.

A dermatologist

Looking well, seeing well

The doctor whose speciality is disorders of vision (myopia, astigmatism, cataracts, glaucoma, etc.) may prescribe glasses, administer drugs, or perform surgery.

An ophthalmologist

A feeling in your bones

This specialist deals with the skeletal structure of the body, treating bone fractures, slipped discs, clubfoot, curvature of the spine, dislocations of the hip, etc., and many correct a condition either by surgery or by the use of braces or other appliances.

An orthopaedist or orthopaedic surgeon

Does your heart go pitter-patter?

This specialist treats disorders of the heart and circulatory system, sometimes with drugs but increasingly with sophisticated surgical techniques.

A cardiologist

In the blood

This doctor specializes in disorders of the blood, including leukaemia, which is a cancer of the bone-marrow (where blood components are formed).

A haematologist

Nerves and brain

This physician specializes in the treatment of disorders of the brain, spinal cord, and the rest of the nervous system.

A neurologist

Nerves and nervousness

This specialist attempts to alleviate mental and emotional disturbances by means of various techniques, sometimes drugs, but more often one-to-one or group psychotherapy.

A psychiatrist

Can you match the subject with the person?

mental or emotional disturbances = psychiatrist

nervous system = neurologist

skin = dermatologist

infants = paediatrician

female reproductive organs = gynaecologist

eyes = ophthalmologist

heart = cardiologist

blood = haematologist

pregnancy, childbirth = obstetrician

skeletal system = orthopaedist

Do you understand the words?

Is a gynaecologist familiar with the female reproductive organs? Yes

Does an obstetrician specialize in diseases of childhood? No

Does a paediatrician deliver babies? No

If you had a skin disease, would you visit a dermatologist? Yes

If you had trouble with your vision, would you visit an orthopaedist? No

Is an ophthalmologist an eye specialist? Yes

Does a cardiologist treat bone fractures? No

Is a neurologist a nerve specialist? Yes

If you were nervous and constantly fearful for no apparent reasons, would a psychiatrist be the specialist to see? Yes

Does a haematologist specialize in men’s diseases? No


Doctors for women

The word gynaecolosit is built on Greek gyne, woman, plus logy, science, which comes from the Greek logos, meaning word; etymologically, gynaecology is the science of women.  Adjective: gynaecological.

Obstetrician derives from Latin obstetrix, midwife, which in turn has its source in a Latin verb meaning to stand – midwives stand in front of the woman in labour to deliver the baby.

The medical speciality dealing with childbirth is obstetrics.  Adjective: obstetric or obstetrical.

The suffix –ician, as in obstetrician, physician, musician, magician, electrician, etc., means expert.


Paediatrician is a combination of Greek paidos, child; iatreia, medical healing; and –ician, expert. Paediatrics, then, is the medical healing of a child.  Adjective: paediatric.

Pedagogy, which loses the ‘a’ but still combines paidos with agogos, leading, is, etymologically, the leading of children.  And to what do you lead them?  To learning, to development, to maturity.  Hence, pedagogy, which by derivation means the leading of a child, refers actually to the principles and methods of teaching.  Adjective: pedagogic or pedagogical.

A pedagogue is a teacher.  But from its original, neutral meaning it has deteriorated to the point where it refers, today, to a narrow-minded, strait-laced, old-fashioned, dogmatic teacher.  It is a word of contempt and should be used with caution.

(The ped– you see in words like pedestal, pedal, and pedestrian is from the Latin pes, pedis, foot, and despite the identical spelling in English has no relationship to Greek paidos.)

Like pedagogue, demagogue has also deteriorated in meaning.  By derivation a leader (agogos) of the people (demos), a demagogue today is an agitator, a politician who is a rabble-rouser.  Many ‘leaders’ of the past and present in countries around the world have been accused of demagoguery.  Adjective: demagogic.


The dermatologist, whose speciality is dermatology, is so named from Greek derma, skin.  Adjective: dermatological.

See the syllables derma in any English word and you will know there is some reference to skin – for example, a hypodermic needle penetrates under (Greek, hypo), the skin; a taxidermist, whose business is taxidermy, prepares, stuffs, and mounts the skins of animals; a pachyderm is an animal with an unusually thick skin, like an elephant, hippopotamus, or rhinoceros; and dermatitis is the general name for any skin inflammation, irritation, or infection.

The eyes have it

Ophthalmologist – note the ph preceding th – is from Greek ophthalmos, eye, plus logos, science or study.  The speciality is ophthalmology, the adjective ophthalmological.

An earlier title for this physician is oculist, from Latin oculus, eye, a root on which the following English words are also built:

ocular – an adjective that refers to the eye

monocle – a lens for one (monos) eye, sported as a symbol of the British upper-class male

binoculars – field glasses that increase the range of two (bi-) eyes

And, strangely enough, inoculate, a word commonly misspelt with two ns.  When you are inoculated against a disease, an ‘eye’, puncture, or hole is made in your skin, through which serum is injected.

Do not confuse the ophthalmologist, a medical specialist, with two other practitioners who deal with the eye – the optometrist and optician.

Optometrists are not doctors, and do not perform surgery or administer drugs; they do eye tests and prescribe and fit glasses.

Opticians fall into two categories. The first type often called ophthalmic opticians, perform the same functions as optometrists.  The second type make or dispense glasses and contact lenses.  They fill an optometrist’s or ophthalmologist’s prescription, grinding and fitting lenses according to specifications; they do not examine patients.

Optometrists combine Greek opsis, optikos, sight or vision, with metron, measurement – the optometrist, by etymology, is one who measures vision.  The speciality of optometry.

Can you match the words?

gynaecology = speciality dealing with the female reproductive system

obstetrics = speciality dealing with delivering babies

paediatrics = speciality dealing with the treatment of children

pedagogue = teacher

demagoguery = stirring up discontent among the masses

dermatology = treatment of skin diseases

taxidermy = stuffing of skins of animals

pachyderm = rhinoceros

ophthalmologist = eye doctor

optometrist = one who measures eyesight

Do you understand the words?

Does a treatise on obstetrics deal with children?  Yes

Does gynaecology deal with the diseases of the bloodstream?  No

Is paediatrics concerned with premature babies?  Yes

Does pedagogy refer to teaching?  Yes

Is a demagogue a fluent speaker?  Yes

Is a lion a pachyderm?  No

Is dermatitis an inflammation of one of the limbs?  No

Is a taxidermist a medical practitioner?  No

Is an ophthalmologist a medical doctor?  Yes

Is an optometrist a medical doctor?  No


The straighteners

The orthopedist is so called from the Greek roots orthos, straight or correct, and paidos, child.  The orthopaedist, by etymology, straightens children.  But today the speciality of orthopaedics treats deformities, injuries, and diseases of the bones and joints (of adults as well as children), usually by surgical procedures.  Adjective: orthopaedic.

Orthodontics, the straightening of teeth, is built on orthos plus odontos, tooth.  The orthodontist specializes in improving your ‘bite’, retracting ‘buck teeth’, and by means of braces and other techniques seeing to it that every tooth is exactly where it belongs in your mouth.  Adjective: orthodontic.

The heart

Cardiologist combines Greek kardia, heart, and logos, science.  The speciality is cardiology, the adjective cardiological.

So a cardiac condition refers to some malfunctioning of the heart; a cardiogram is an electrically produced record of the heartbeat (often called ECG, for ElectroCardioGram).  The instrument that produces this record is called a cardiograph.

The blood

The haematologist is so called from Greek haima, haimatos, blood.  Speciality: haematology; adjective haematological.

The same root is found in haemophilia, with Greek philein, to love; literally, loving blood, but actually a disorder in which the blood does not clot properly.  Haematoma is the technical word for a bruise.

The nervous system

Neurologist derives from Greek neuron, nerve.  Speciality: neurology; adjective: neurological.

Neuralgia is acute pain along the nerves and their branches; the word comes from neuron plus algos, pain.

Neuritis is inflammation of the nerves. Itis is a suffix meaning inflammation of, as in appendicitis.

Teaser questions for the amateur etymologist

Thinking of the roots odontos and paidos (spelled paed– in English), work out the meaning of paedodontics.

Answer: Paedodontics is the speciality of child dentistry – paidos, child, plus odontos, tooth.  Specialist: paedodontis.  Adjective: paedodontic.

Recall the roots kardia and algos.  What is the meaning of cardialgia?

Answer: Cardialgia, heart pain – kardia, heart, plus algos, pain.

Of odontalgia?

Answer: Odontalgia, toothache.

What is the meaning and derivation of carditis?

Answer: Carditis, inflammation of the heart – kardia, heart, plus –itis, inflammation.

An analgesic is a drug given to relieve pain.  Can you comment on its derivation?

Answer: Analgesic combines negative root an– with algos, pain.


The mind

Neurosis, combining neuron with –osis, a suffix meaning abnormal or diseased condition, is not, despite its etymology, a disorder of the nerves, but rather a mild mental disorder, with symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive behaviour. Neurotic is both the adjectival form and the term for a person suffering from neurosis.

A full-blown mental disorder is called a psychosis, a word built on Greek psyche, spirit, soul, or mind, plus –osis.  A true psychotic has lost contact with reality – at least with reality as most of us perceive it, though no doubt psychotic (note that this word, like neurotic, is both noun and an adjective) people have their own form of reality.

Built on psyche plus iatreia, medical healing, a psychiatrist, by etymology, is a mind-healer.  The speciality is psychiatry; the adjective is psychiatric.

Old people

The doctor who treats old people is a geriatrician.  The speciality is geriatrics; the adjective is geriatric.  The Greek root is geras, old age.

A related medical speciality is gerontology, which is the study of the process of ageing and the problems of old age.  It derives from Greek geron, gerontos, old man, plus logos.

Can you match the words?

orthopaedics = treatment of bone problems

orthodontics = straightening of teeth

neuralgia = nerve pain

neuritis = inflammation of the nerves

geriatrics = speciality dealing with medical problems of the elderly

cardiogram = record of heart beats

cardiograph = instrument for recording heartbeats

neurosis = emotional disturbance

psychosis = mental unbalance

psychiatry = treatment of personality disorders

Do you understand the words ?

A gynaecologist’s patients are mostly men.  No

Ophthalmology is the study of eye diseases. Yes.

Orthopaedics is the speciality dealing with the bones and joints. Yes

A cardiac patient has a heart ailment.  Yes.

A person with a bad ‘bite’ may profit from orthodontics.  Yes.

Neuralgia is a disease of the bones. No.

A neurosis is the same as a psychosis.  No

Neuritis is inflammation of the nerves. Yes

Psychiatric treatment is designed to relieve tension, fears, and insecurities. Yes

A geriatrician has very young patients.  No

Becoming word-conscious

Perhaps, if you have been working as assiduously with this material as I hope you have, you have noticed an interesting phenomenon.

This phenomenon is as follows: you read a magazine article and suddenly you see one or more of the words you have recently learned. Or you open a book and there again are some of the words you have been working with.  In short, all your reading seems to call to your attention the very words you’ve been studying.

©Dodgsons KingsWay Sanctuary Church, 1973.



Published by:

Andrea Nicola Dodgson

I'm a R.o. Buddhist. And a U.N. Theatre tutor where I own all the Ethnography businesses as birth certificates involving Disney, MGM, Universal, Times Warner, 20th Century Fox, Sony, D.C., Tristar, Pixar, Columbia, and Paramount. And, I get Equipment here for it. I want all my equipment.. #Solidarity

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