One thing I have come across frequently in my journey of becoming a physician, is the lack of knowledge from the general public about different healthcare providers. In order to help educate on that topic, I am going to explain in greater detail some of the most common terms you may come across when navigating healthcare in this country.
MD – Stands for the latin, Medicinae Doctor, which translates to teacher of medicine. An MDs training consists of a 4 year undergraduate degree (either a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts), followed by 4 years of medical school. Medical school consists of 2 years classroom learning and 2 years of clinical clerkships. After medical school, MDs must complete a residency program which can range in length depending on the specialty. MDs also must pass 3 board exams (known as the USMLE Steps 1, 2, and 3) as well as boards for their chosen specialty.
DO – Stands for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. Like an MD, DOs complete a 4 year undergraduate degree, 4 years in medical school, followed by a residency. The major difference is DO medical students have extra training in the musculoskeletal system and a technique called Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT). They also take 3 board exams, but they are slightly different to include the extra training and are called the COMLEX.
NP – Stands for Nurse Practitioner. Sometimes they are also called LNPs or DNPs. NPs must complete a 4 year undergraduate degree in a nursing program, such as a RN. Typically before they begin a NP program they have several years experience working as a nurse in the field. The NP program is a master’s level education that typically takes 2 years. However some programs are doctorate level. Other programs are offered online. NPs have limited prescribing rights and practice under the supervision of an MD/DO.
PA – Stands for Physician Assistant. PAs must complete a bachelor’s level degree before entering a PA program. Like NPs, PA’s typically have a lot of patient experience before entering their program. It is also a master’s level program and takes 2 years. PA’s have limited prescribing rights and practice under the supervision of an MD/DO.
DPM – Stands for Doctor of Podiatry Medicine, also known as a podiatrist. They specialize in foot and ankle problems. Podiatrist’s must have a 4 year undergraduate degree before entering DPM school. There they have 4 years of training and after they graduate, they have must complete a residency program. Residency programs are typically 2 or more years.
OD – Stands for Doctor of Optometry or Optometrist. They specialize in problems of the eye. They must complete a 4 year bachelor’s degree before entering optometry school. There they have 4 years of training.
CNM– Stands for Certified Nurse-Midwife. They specialize in obstetric, or childbirth, and gynecologic care. Prior to entering a midwife program they need to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, although some school’s accept RNs without an undergraduate degree. There are multiple different programs and some are masters level, while others are doctorate level. Some programs are even available online.
Other common terms
Specialty – There are over 120 specialties and sub-specialties recognized in the United States. Medical students match into a particular specialty residency during their 4th year of medical school. However, some residents switch specialties during their training, or add on another residency.
PCP/Primary Care – Primary care consists of Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, OB/Gyn, and Pediatrics. These are going to be a patients first access point in the healthcare system and these physicians have long term relationships with their patients. PCP stands for primary care provider, and are going to be the provider a patient sees for most of their healthcare needs.