Understanding the Different Kind of Primary Care Providers

"PCP" is a commonly used acronym or abbreviation to describe a your primary health care provider.  This is usually a physician, but can also be a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant who works under the direction of a physician.

A variety of Riverside medical professionals are trained to provide you and your family with primary care. To help you determine what type of doctor may be right for you, here is helpful information about several types of primary care providers:   

Primary Care Physicians:

Family Practice & Internal Medicine
Both Family Practice and Internal Medicine physicians serve as primary care physicians.   Both types of physicians have attended four years of medical school, followed by a three year residency.  The focus of the residency is what differentiates the two areas.  Family practice physicians' training focuses on caring for the whole family, including pediatrics and OB/GYN care.   Internal medicine training focuses solely on disease facing adults.  Both types of physicians are required to take ongoing medical education courses throughout their career.   

Both Family Practice and Internal Medicine physicians can treat a variety of illnesses and conditions, conduct health screenings and comprehensive physical exams, provide primary, wellness and preventative healthcare. They can be your partner in monitoring and managing long-term illnesses and conditions including diabetes and high cholesterol.  If they diagnose a condition requiring specialist follow up, they can coordinate that care with the specialty physician. 

Obstetricians/Gynecologists
While Obstetricians and Gynecologists (OB/GYNs) are experts in the female reproductive system, some women use their OB/GYN as their primary care provider.  OB/GYNs are physicians trained to care for women during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as manage any disorders of the female reproductive system.  If you want your OB/GYN to be your primary care provider,  make sure to ask if they will serve that role as well.  Some OB/GYNs prefer to have a Family Practice or Internal Medicine physician follow patients for medical issues not related to the reproductive system.   Like Family Practice and Internal Medicine physicians, OB/GYNs attend four years of medical school, followed by a three year residency.  But, their residency training focuses on pregnancy, childbirth, and the medical and surgical management of problems of the female reproductive system.

Pediatricians
Pediatricians are physicians trained to care for newborns, infants, children and adolescents. They also attend four years of medical school followed by three years of residency training.  They provide preventive care for healthy children and treat children who are injured or ill. They specialize in childhood diseases, growth and emotional health.

M.D.s and D.O.s
Medical Doctors (M.D.s) and Doctors of Osteopathy (D.O.s) are physicians who are licensed to practice medicine.  The main difference is in the type of four year medical school they attend (medical or osteopathic).  Following medical school, both obtain graduate medical education through internships and residencies. Like M.D.'s, D.O.'s may choose to practice in any specialty area. Each must pass similar examinations for licensure and board-certification. 

Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants Many primary care physicians also use "midlevel" care providers to help
take care of their patients.  "Midlevel" is a term used to describe Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants who are trained to manage patient care under the supervision of a physician.  They are licensed to provide care, as well as to order diagnostic tests or prescribe many medications. 

A Nurse Practitioner has completed a registered nursing degree program as part of a bachelor's degree. In addition, they have  master's degree from an accredited nurse practitioner program.   Physician Assistants also have a bachelor's degree and then complete a master's level degree in a physician's assistant program, and may specialize in many fields of medicine including family medicine. 


 

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