Upon discovering a sick person, most people are compelled to call for a doctor. But the word "doctor" is actually a Latin word (and later a French one) meaning anyone who is a teacher—including those who mastered law, theology, philosophy, as well as medicine. Therefore the more precise way to ask for medical attention is to call for a physician.
In order to explain the meaning of physician, we must begin with the Latin word, physicum or physicus, and the French word, physique. All of these words mean remedy. In 1212, the Anglo-Normans appropriated these words to coin the word fisike or physic. Even though it is rarely used today, physic can still be found in any English dictionary to define medicine or remedy.
Things get rather complicated when we talk about the branch of science we now call physics. Beginning in the 1300s, physic also began to be used to describe natural science but the meaning would be made obvious by how it was used in a sentence. For example, "Sir Isaac Newton took physic for his stomach pain" is quite different from "Sir Isaac Newton undertook the study of physic to explain the concept of gravity." In 1500, the Germans began calling physical science, Physik, while English-speaking people added an "s," hence physics, to distinguish it from their word for medical remedies.
Nevertheless, it is from physic that we get the word physician; for centuries physician referred to medical practitioners who were university-educated and prescribed drugs, as opposed to their once less-distinguished colleagues, surgeons, who worked with their hands and typically with a knife. In our modern era, all physicians and surgeons go to medical school even if they sometimes have differences of opinion in how to go about treating specific illnesses.
Although the Oxford English Dictionary documents the word physician in dozens of texts appearing between the 1200s and the 1500s, including many plays by William Shakespeare, its most famous entry into the English language occurred in 1522. That was the year that William Tyndale published the first translation of the New Testament from ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin sources into English. In it, Tyndale used the word physician, instead of the Latin medice, for the famous passage in Luke 4: 23: "Physician, heal thyself" ("Vicision heale thy selfe"). In this particular parable, Jesus returns to Nazareth expecting to be criticized by his townsmen with this common Hebrew axiom for helping others in faraway places but not in his own home. The point of the axiom, of course, is that we should cure ourselves of our own faults before correcting those of others.
During the 20th century, those doctors practicing internal medicine have sought to claim the term physician exclusively for their specialty. Technically, all graduates of 21st century medical schools are physicians even if not all physicians are surgeons, or pediatricians, cardiologists, or radiologists, and so on. Instead, because of the tendency of ever-increasing medical specialization, most physicians today identify themselves according to their specific field of expertise.