Medical Specialties – Meet the Hand Doctor

When you have a problem with your hand or wrist and surgery is recommended, your family doctor may refer you to a hand surgeon (sometimes also called a hand doctor or hand specialist). These highly trained physicians can treat a wide variety of problems and may also treat the entire arm. Hand doctors come from different medical backgrounds; here’s a bit about the medical specialty from the Florida Hand Center.

The Basics

Hand surgeons begin their careers in one of three medical specialties: general surgery, plastic surgery or orthopaedic surgery. All must have a bachelor’s degree to enter medical school, and while many choose a science major, that’s not required. After four years of medical school, the graduate physician enters a residency. General and orthopaedic surgeons spend five years in residency, while a plastic surgery residency takes from five to seven years.

 Specialty Training

A minimum of one additional year of training is required to become a hand specialist, according to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand. The program must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. A typical fellowship program in hand surgery includes trauma surgery of the hand and wrist, congenital corrections, micro-vascular surgery, surgery for arthritis, reconstructive surgery and peripheral nerve surgery. In addition, the student completes training in unusual and highly complex procedures like the re-implantation of a severed hand or finger(s) and may take additional training in a specialty like microvascular surgery.

Hand Doctor – Certification

Physicians usually become board-certified in the primary specialty they practice. Certification is an indication of knowledge and the doctor must pass a difficult examination in order to become nationally certified. Many hand surgeons are dual-boarded. The surgeon completes a certification exam in his or her primary specialty, such as plastic or orthopaedic surgery, then takes another examination after completion of the hand surgery fellowship. This second certification is called Certification in the Subspecialty of Surgery of the Hand (previously called CAQ Hand). Look for the certificate in your doctor’s office.

What Can a Hand Doctor Treat?

Although they are surgeons, hand specialists also provide medical treatment. They often do so in collaboration with other doctors, as when a internist or rheumatologist works with an orthopaedic surgeon to treat a patient with rheumatoid arthritis. Although they specialize in hand surgery, some physicians (especially those who specialize in orthopaedics) also treat the entire upper extremity, including the elbow and even shoulder. Hand doctors may treat conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist pain, sprains and fractures, trigger finger and congenital conditions.

If you are experiencing hand or wrist problems, contact the Florida Hand Center. Our hand specialists can diagnose and treat your condition. We also have other specialists on staff, including occupation therapists, specially trained nurses and other support staff to ensure all of your needs are met. Please call for an appointment or if you have questions or concerns.