"PCP" is an acronym or abbreviation that is used to describe a 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 find out what type of provider may be right for you, here is helpful information about several types of primary care providers:

Primary Care Providers

Family Practice & Internal Medicine Physicians

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 how these two are different.

Family practice physicians are also called family medicine physicians. The training for family practice physicians focuses on caring for the whole family. This includes kids, also called pediatrics, and OB/GYN care, which is for girls and women.

Internal medicine training focuses only on adults and the conditions they face. Both types of physicians have to take ongoing medical education courses throughout their careers.

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 health care

They can be your partner in monitoring and managing long-term illnesses and conditions like diabetes or high cholesterol. If they find you have a condition that needs follow-up by a specialist, they can help you connect with the specialty physician so you get the care you need.

Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Obstetricians and gynecologists, or 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 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, known as M.D.s, and Doctors of Osteopathy, or 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 Advanced Practice Providers, or APPs, to help take care of their patients. Advanced Practice Provider is a term used to describe nurse practitioners and physician assistants who are trained to care for patients under the supervision of a physician. They are licensed to provide care, as well as order diagnostic tests or prescribe many medications.

Nurse practitioners complete a registered nursing degree program as part of a bachelor's degree. In addition, each has a master's degree from an accredited nurse practitioner program. Each physician assistant also has a bachelor's degree and completes a master's level degree in a physician's assistant program. Physician assistants may specialize in many fields of medicine including family medicine.

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