Just because someone is wearing a white lab coat and has a stethoscope in their pocket or around their neck, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a doctor. We often hear from our clients that they were in a doctor appointment or at the hospital and the person they thought was their doctor was, in fact, a different member of the team, like a pharmacist or a medical student. This is extremely common and even when you’re working side by side with medical professionals, it can often be confusing. Based on questions we regularly hear, we have listed various medical professional roles and their typical areas of responsibility. Please note that various healthcare organizations may define their roles and activities in different ways, but the following list can be used as a starting point to better understand who could be working with you during your healthcare journey.
Attending Physician– a physician with an MD (Medical Doctor) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) who completed residency and practices medicine in a hospital or clinic
Fellow– a fully credentialed physician who pursues additional training usually in an area of specialty
Resident Physician– a medical graduate who practices medicine in a hospital or clinic. A resident physician is under the direct or indirect supervision of an attending physician
Medical Student– a student who is enrolled at a medical school, training to become a physician
Specialist– a physician who has completed advanced training and education in a specific area of medicine
Hospitalist– a dedicated in-patient physician who works specifically in the hospital, coordinating your care and discharge plan with the various specialists
Nurse– a medical professional who is trained to care for sick or injured people. The field of nursing also includes the promotion of health and the prevention of illness.
Nurse Practitioner– often referred to as an NP, a nurse practitioner is a nurse who is trained and qualified to treat specific medical conditions without the direct supervision of a physician
Physician Assistant– a healthcare professional who works under the supervision of a doctor. Physician Assistants, who are sometimes referred to as a PAs, are qualified to perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order diagnostic tests and can assist doctors with surgical procedures
Medical Assistant– an allied health professional who supports health professionals, often in a clinic setting. They typically take and record vital signs and assist with administrative and clinical tasks in a clinic or hospital setting.
Lab Technician– a person who performs hands-on work at the bedside, in the clinic, and in laboratories. They often are the ones who collect and examine test body fluids like urine or blood
Pharmacist– a healthcare professional who are medication experts. Pharmacists prepare and dispense prescribed medications to patients as well as provides information about drugs
Rehabilitation Therapists (Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapists)– These allied medical health professionals provide evaluations and services to patients who have impairments, functional limitations, disabilities or changes in function. It is typical that a therapy evaluation would be ordered if a patient is recovering from a stroke, surgery, or another significant change.
Who is on your team? A way that our clients have felt more informed is to keep a list of who is on their team with the persons’ names and roles written down. This can help us better understand who is recommending what. What do you wish you knew about your healthcare? At 2×2 Health, whether we are in the same room with you or across the country, we want to be a resource to assist you and your loved ones. Our goal is for more and more people to be engaged and feel confident in their healthcare care experiences. One way to become more engaged and confident is to ask questions. What do you wish you knew? We want to help you and those that you love.
Wendy Benson, MBA, OTR/L