Finding a primary care provider can sometimes be a bit confusing.
You’ll see a variety of credentials on identification badges pinned to their white coats and scrubs – MD, DO, NP, PA …
But what does it all mean?
It means you have a choice, according to Naresh K. Agarwal, MD, FACP, MBA, CPE, who specializes in internal medicine and serves as regional director of primary care for OSF Medical Group in the central region.
Agarwal explains what those letters mean.
Physicians fall into one of two categories:
- MD stands for medical doctors. In the United States, MDs attend medical schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). An MD practices what is known as allopathic medicine, which is the classic form of medicine focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of human disease.
- DO stands for doctor of osteopathic medicine. Unlike MDs, DOs are accredited by the American Osteopathic Associate Commission within the Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA). A DO takes a more holistic approach to treating the body. Rather than treating symptoms with medication, for example, a DO may provide a more hands-on approach called osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT).
You may also be treated by an advanced practice provider. Those include:
- PA, or a physician assistant, is a graduate of an accredited PA educational program. They are nationally certified and state licensed to practice medicine with the supervision of a physician. PAs are educated on the medical model with an emphasis on primary care. All PAs rotate through the major specialties and complete a vast number of clinical rotations while in training. PAs are licensed to practice in all areas of medicine and even in surgery.
- APRN or NP are an advanced practice registered nurse or nurse practitioner. They are registered nurses with additional advanced clinical education and specialty expertise. APRNs and NPs complete a master’s or doctoral degree program with expansive clinical hour rotations and are board certified. Nurse practitioners may be certified in a broad variety of primary care specialties including, family practice, acute care (adult and/or pediatric), women’s health, neonatal, pediatrics, gerontology and psychiatry. APRNs and NPs can prescribe medications and order tests for all procedures. A doctor supervises all advanced practice providers.
“It’s important for people to know that advanced practice providers and physicians work together to take care of the health care needs of you and your family,” Dr. Agarwal said. “Patients benefit from having both their physician and their advanced practice provider working together on their care.”
Providers specialize in different areas
People also need to know they have a choice of different specialties within primary care to choose from when selecting their provider, Dr. Agarwal said.
“At OSF Medical Group, we have internal medicine, family medicine, internal medicine-pediatrics and pediatrics specialties that all fall under primary care,” he said.
Here’s a look at those specialties:
- Internists are internal medicine physician specialists who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness.
- Family medicine practitioners provide comprehensive care to patients of ALL ages and genders through ALL stages of life. They treat a large variety of different health conditions.
- Internal medicine-pediatrics physicians are trained in internal medicine and pediatrics and can care for the newborn to the geriatric patient. Internal medicine-pediatrics, or med-peds, is a medical specialty in which doctors train to be board certified in both internal medicine and pediatrics.
- Pediatrics is the branch of medicine that involves the medical care of infants, children and adolescents.
“Knowing these differences enables you to better understand what unique services each specialty brings and how it may serve your individual and your family’s health care needs,” Dr. Agarwal said. “As always, you are in charge of your care team and you can choose the kind of care that feels right for you.”
To find a primary care provider near you, use the Find a Doctor tool at the OSF HealthCare directory and schedule an appointment online.
Last Updated: June 28, 2021