Types of health care providers
This article describes health care providers involved in primary care, nursing care, and specialty care.
A primary care provider (PCP) is a person you may see first for checkups and health problems. PCPs can help manage your overall health. If you have a health care plan, find out what type of practitioner can serve as your PCP.
- The term "generalist" often refers to medical doctors (MDs) and doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) who specialize in internal medicine, family practice, or pediatrics.
- Obstetrician/Gynecologists (OB/GYNs) are doctors who specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, including women's health care, wellness, and prenatal care. Many women use an OB/GYN as their primary care provider.
- Nurse practitioners (NPs) are nurses with graduate training. They can serve as a primary care provider in family medicine (FNP), pediatrics (PNP), adult care (ANP), or geriatrics (GNP). Others are trained to address women's health care (common concerns and routine screenings) and family planning. NPs can prescribe medicines.
- A physician assistant (PA) can provide a wide range of services in collaboration with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO).
- Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are state-licensed caregivers who have been trained to care for the sick.
- Registered nurses (RNs) have graduated from a nursing program, have passed a state board examination, and are licensed by the state.
- Advanced practice nurses have education and experience beyond the basic training and licensing required of all RNs.
Advanced practice nurses include nurse practitioners (NPs) and the following:
- Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) have training in a field such as cardiac, psychiatric, or community health.
- Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) have training in women's health care needs, including prenatal care, labor and delivery, and the care of a woman who has given birth.
- Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) have training in the field of anesthesia. Anesthesia is the process of putting a person into a painless sleep, and keeping the person's body working so surgeries or special tests can be done.
Licensed pharmacists have graduate training from a college of pharmacy.
Your pharmacist prepares and processes drug prescriptions that were written by your primary or specialty care provider. Pharmacists provide information to people about medicines. They also consult with providers about dosages, interactions, and side effects of medicines.
Your pharmacist may also follow your progress to check that you are using your medicine safely and effectively.
Pharmacists also can evaluate your health and prescribe medicines.
Your primary care provider may refer you to professionals in various specialties when necessary, such as:
- Allergy and asthma
- Anesthesiology -- general anesthesia or spinal block for surgeries and some forms of pain control
- Cardiology -- heart disorders
- Dermatology -- skin disorders
- Endocrinology -- hormonal and metabolic disorders, including diabetes
- Gastroenterology -- digestive system disorders
- General surgery -- common surgeries involving any part of the body
- Hematology -- blood disorders
- Immunology -- disorders of the immune system
- Infectious disease -- infections affecting the tissues of any part of the body
- Nephrology -- kidney disorders
- Neurology -- nervous system disorders
- Obstetrics/gynecology -- pregnancy and women's reproductive disorders
- Oncology -- cancer treatment
- Ophthalmology -- eye disorders and surgery
- Orthopedics -- bone and connective tissue disorders
- Otorhinolaryngology -- ear, nose, and throat (ENT) disorders
- Physical therapy and rehabilitative medicine -- for disorders such as low back injury, spinal cord injuries, and stroke
- Psychiatry -- emotional or mental disorders
- Pulmonary (lung) -- respiratory tract disorders
- Radiology -- x-rays and related procedures (such as ultrasound, CT, and MRI)
- Rheumatology -- pain and other symptoms related to joints and other parts of the musculoskeletal system
- Urology -- disorders of the male reproductive system and urinary tract and the female urinary tract
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants may also provide care in association with most types of specialists.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 01/24/2019.
This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.