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The ABCs of Internal Medicine

For primary care, do you see an MD or a DO? Does that doctor have an NP or a PA? Can NPs and PAs write prescriptions? And if they can, why would you need an MD or a DO to be your PCP?

All of these different letters stand for varying levels of medical expertise, specialty and training. Ultimately, this is a good thing because it means you can almost always get the exact kind of care you need delivered by the kind of provider you prefer. However, it does make things a little confusing! I recently dropped by WCNC’s Charlotte Today to define these abbreviations.

Internal medicine providers are like “pediatricians for adults.” Here’s the difference:

  • MD – Medical Doctor
  • DO – Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (Training for a DO includes more musculoskeletal-based evaluation and treatment options. These doctors have the same residency training as MDs and perform the same jobs.)
  • NP – Nurse Practitioner (An NP trains as a Registered Nurse and has a Masters in Nursing. NPs have a clinical background rooted in nursing principles and work in clinics, urgent care facilities and hospitals.)
  • PA – Physician Assistant (PAs have masters-level degrees and are trained more similarly to physicians. They work in both clinic and hospital settings, even assisting in surgeries, depending upon the specialty.)
  • PharmD – Doctor of Pharmacy (Clinical pharmacists help physicians adjust medications and educate patients.)

In a practice setting, NPs and PAs increase our capacity to ensure you can be seen when you need to be seen. With a “care team” approach, you can see someone who knows your medical story, even if the doctor is fully booked. NPs and PAs are supervised by physicians.

Who to choose?

  • When selecting ANY PCP (primary care provider), find someone who listens well!
  • Choose a provider who asks questions and empowers you to be the healthiest you.
  • You should feel comfortable asking providers about their “letters” and qualifications. Unclear? Ask again! No provider should ever make you feel badly for advocating for yourself.