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Guide to Primary Care Providers

Do You Understand the Different Types of Primary Care Providers?

"PCP" is a common acronym or abbreviation for a primary care provider. This is usually a physician, but can also be a nurse practitioner (NP) or physician's assistant (PA) who works under the direction of a physician.

To help you determine what type of health care provider may be right for you, here is a guide to primary care providers located here in southwest Michigan.

Osteopathic doctors (DOs) are doctors of osteopathic medicine, who are fully qualified physicians, licensed to prescribe medication and perform surgery.

Doctors of Medicine (MD) have an undergraduate degree then complete four years of medical education at an accredited medical school. This is followed by a three to seven yearlong residency program of supervised practice. Doctor's may go on to complete a fellowship of one to three years for more specialized training. Doctors are licensed to practice medicine after successfully completing a state licensing examination.

Family Medicine / Family Practitioners provide continuing, all-inclusive health care for individuals of both genders and all ages. By placing special attention on the family as a group, the Family Medicine practitioner provides more integrated care to all patients within a family.

  • They emphasize disease prevention and wellness by suggesting preventive tests
  • They coach patients to make lifestyle changes to prevent serious medical conditions
  • They monitor chronic conditions to avoid further complications

When a referral to a specialist is necessary, the Family Medicine practitioner collaborates with the specialist, coordinating the patient's healthcare and serving as the patient's advocate in all care settings.

Internal Medicine / Internists provide medical (nonsurgical) care for patients ranging in age from adolescent through senior years. Internists focus on the entire body of a patient and function in many capacities, as a diagnostician, a personal physician, health counselor, educator and consultant. As diagnosticians, they are specially trained to solve address medical situations in which several different illnesses may occur at the same time. They can manage complex and chronic illnesses, but also encourage wellness. As primary care physicians, they care for patients for life and coordinate care when other specialists are needed.

Nurse practitioners (NP) are registered nurses with advanced degrees and training in diagnosis and treatment of illness. NPs may prescribe medications, administer physical exams, and counsel patients on how to stay healthy.

Pediatricians specialize in the treatment of children ranging in age from newborn to 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.

Physician assistants (PA) perform physical examinations, counsel patients and prescribe certain medications under a doctor's supervision. Most PAs have an undergraduate degree and complete an accredited PA program often taking two years of full-time study. They also require state licensure.

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