How to Choose a Medical Specialist


Your primary care physician (PCP) or Health Care Professional can address most of your healthcare needs including routine checkups, preventative care and medical treatment.  But, occasionally, you may need to find a doctor who has expertise treating a specific set of symptoms. That’s when your PCP will recommend that you see a specialist.

Medical specialists are physicians who have completed advanced education and clinical training in a specific branch of medicine. There are dozens of specialists: each focuses on a different condition, such as heart disease, breast cancer or sleep disorders.

Typically, your PCP will refer you to a specific specialist. However, you can become involved in the selection process and help decide which specialist is best for you.  To become a better informed patient, you will need to do a little research.

Here are some guidelines to help you decide if a particular specialist is right for you:

  • Education and Certification. Your specialist should have advanced training in a specific area of medicine. In addition to earning a degree from a medical school, specialists must complete residency (sometimes a fellowship) training and pass exams administered by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). Your specialist should also be board-certified or board-eligible in his or her branch of medicine.
  • Experience. Ask how many similar cases your specialist has treated (this is especially relevant if you need surgery). Also, ask if your specialist remains up-to-date on recent developments in his or her field of expertise.
  • Accessibility. It’s important to have quick access to your specialist, whether you have a question or if you are experiencing an urgent issue. Ask these questions: Is your specialist’s office reasonably close to your home? Is your specialist available during an emergency? Is there another physician who provides coverage if your specialist is away?
  •  Insurance Coverage. To avoid any surprises later, ask if your specialist accepts your form of insurance. Also, inquire if your specialist accepts other payment options.
  •  Rapport. It’s important to feel comfortable talking to your specialist. Trust and open communication go a long way toward building an optimal patient-doctor relationship.

Whether you have an illness, injury or condition that requires specialized care, the Allegheny Health Network has a specialist who is ready to help you.  Ask your doctor to refer you to one of our qualified, approachable, specialists. You can also learn more about our physicians and services by visiting