Trips to the doctor’s office can be an intimidating experience for some patients. This holds especially true when their physician starts babbling a bunch of medical jargon at them and expects them to perfectly understand. We here at AFC Doctors Express Urgent Care Southcenter like to keep our patients in the loop, so here’s a little cheat sheet to help you better understand the different roles of our staff members.

Nurse Practitioner: Registered nurses and nurse practitioners are two entirely different occupations. While people at both positions may refer to themselves as ‘nurses’, they differ significantly in both their responsibilities and education.

Registered nurses can receive their certification after two years of post-high school education, as they can receive their degree in an associate’s degree program. Nurse practitioners, though, need a Master’s program, and typically spend 6-8 years studying in a higher education environment. Due to all of their additional training, nurse practitioners can prescribe medication in all 50 states. Many nurse practitioners also run their own practices, as they can can diagnose and treat a range of injuries and illnesses.

Physician’s Assistant: There’s a subtle difference between nurse practitioners and nurses. Both provide virtually all the same services, and spend roughly the same amount of time in school, but their role within a medical center is in fact, different. Nurse practitioners are often their own bosses, while physician’s assistants always report to a licensed physician. In rural areas, physician’s assistants may sometimes the primary health provider, but they’ll still report to a physician in some degree.

Many nurse practitioners work as specialists, in fields such as OB-GYN or orthopedics, while physician’s assistants exclusively work in general medicine. They can prescribe medication, treat illnesses and can also administer any necessary vaccinations.

Licensed Physician: For licensed physicians, what mainly separates them from other health specialists is experience and education. In addition to spending a combined eight years of undergraduate school and medical school, licensed physicians have to spend at least three years working in residency, which is the time a physician-in-training spends following medical school. For these years they work alongside a physician in a real-life setting. This hands-on-training provides valuable experience in not just refining the skills of the trade, but learning how to handle the emotional trials of being a doctor.

In terms of services provided, the key difference between licensed physicians and nurse practitioners/PA’s, is that only physicians can perform surgery. While PA’s and nurse practitioners can assist in surgery, a physician must be in charge of any surgical procedure. This is dictated by medical regulations, as only physicians have received the requisite training lawfully required to perform surgery.