Healthcare is complicated. Whether it’s medications, treatments, or even your insurance plan, navigating the systems in place to help you get the care you need is time-consuming and complex.

One area that has nuances all its own are the credentials, experiences, and training of some of the providers you’ll meet. At AMA Medical Group, you’ll find MDs, PAs, and APRNs all teamed up to help you heal. Mark Nielsen, APRN, board certified Family Nurse Practitioner, says “A lot of patients don’t understand the difference between a nurse practitioner and a doctor or a physician’s assistant.”

What is the difference between these important designations? Is one better at giving care than the others? We have answers that will help you understand the unique role of each of these expert professionals and what they can do to help you and your loved ones.

What’s the Difference Between an MD, a PA, and an APRN?

Can I See a PA or APRN Instead of My Doctor?There are many kinds of medical professionals that can help you stay healthy. If you visit a family practice like AMA Medical Group, you may be seen by any one of these three professionals: An MD, PA, or an APRN. 

All of these medical professionals provide excellent care and caring and have the expertise and training necessary to treat a wide variety of illnesses and diseases. However, a PA and an APRN are different from the MD in a few important ways, even though the care they provide is pretty much the same.

For example, there are MDs, which stands for doctor of medicine. Your MD can treat a variety of healthcare concerns, from the common cold to mental health issues, chronic illnesses such as diabetes, or urgent care problems such as a broken bone, and more. MDs can specialize in several different areas of study such as: 

  • Family medicine
  • Geriatrics
  • Pediatrics 
  • Specific parts of the body, such as the heart (cardiologist) or the brain (neurologist)

Doctors can also receive board certification as a doctor of osteopathic medicine or an OD. Whether it’s an MD or an OD, these clinical professionals must attend four years of medical school after college and then spend three to seven years in residency and maybe even a few additional years in a fellowship. 

PAs, or physician assistants, are also extensively trained medical professionals who have highly advanced degrees and licensure allowing them to offer high quality care and caring to patients like you. PAs also complete graduate-level medical study, often side-by-side with MDs in training. A PA is nationally certified and licensed, just like a doctor. The biggest difference is that the PA works closely under the supervision of a doctor. The care, however, will be the same.

Benjamin Love, MCMSc, PA-C, board certified Physician Assistant, says that he and other PAs, “go through the same type of training through a medical program like doctors do but it’s condensed to about 2.5 to 3 years, depending on the program.”

An APRN is an advanced practice registered nurse. Within this subset of medical credentialing is the nurse practitioner (NP), one of four types of APRNs:

  1. Certified nurse midwives (CNMs)
  2. Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)
  3. Clinical nurse specialists (CNS)
  4. Nurse practitioner (NP)

The APRN designation in healthcare allows these professionals to specialize in one of these four areas where they feel most passionate. All, however, are nursing professionals and they go through extensive training to join their field of practice. 

APRNs can diagnose and treat disease just like an MD or a PA for the most part. At minimum, an APRN has a registered nurse license (RN), hands-on clinical experience, and a master’s degree in the nursing field. APRNs are also supervised by a licensed MD.

What Are the Duties of an MD, a PA, and an APRN?

What Are the Duties of an MD, a PA, and an APRN?The MD, PA, and APRN all share patient care responsibility. There is quite a bit of overlap in these roles, which, as you’ll understand in a moment, is to your benefit. This includes:

  • Examining patients and taking their history
  • Determining illness
  • Developing strong relationships with patients and their families
  • Creating a treatment plan
  • Counseling patients
  • Ordering lab tests or physical therapy
  • Preventing illnesses through proactive treatments

There are differences, however, in which of these professionals can perform surgical procedures and, in some states, prescribe medications. The doctor has all prescribing and surgical rights, but some states allow other types of clinically licensed providers, like APRNs and PAs, to also write prescriptions. In Florida, PAs and APRNs can write treatment scripts, as long as they have prescribing privileges, training, and licensure.

Mark Nielsen says, “Our training is in what’s called ‘the nursing model,’ so we focus on holistic care, education, and teaching. That’s a big core of what we do. We are an extension of the medical doctor and we work together as a team.”

Why Do APRN/PAs Exist When I Already Have an MD?

Benjamin Love says, “In the United States, there’s a shortage of doctors, so there’s not enough doctors for the shortage of patients that are out there.” He continues, “A solution to that was the physician assistant role.” 

He is absolutely correct. The American Association of Medical Colleges reports that the United States will experience a major physician shortage of between 37,800 to 124,000 by 2034. Mark Nielsen says, “What the whole role that the nurse practitioner was created for, is to be an extension of the physician when they couldn’t be everywhere at once.”

PAs and APRNs are physician extenders that can provide the same high quality care and caring to all patients. They are a valuable resource for doctors carrying a heavy patient load. 

Can I See a PA or APRN Instead of My Doctor?

Today, you can be seen by an MD, PA, or APRN and receive the same level of high-quality treatment. All of these clinical professionals are well trained, trustworthy, and equally able to treat patients. 

If you haven’t been to AMA Medical Group recently, we have an entire experienced clinical team standing by to help you pursue your quest for health. Contact us today to schedule your next appointment.