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Knowing the Differences Between Physicians, Physician’s Assistants, & Nurse Practitioners

Marie Sacco

Marie Sacco

Our center staffs a range of medical experts with varying skills, specialties and levels of expertise. During your visit, you may hear different people introduce themselves as a physician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. When patients are offered medical services by any of these providers, the most frequently asked question is “What is the difference?” We would like to explain the differing duties and responsibilities between each position.

Physician: A physician is a medical doctor who has completed a 4-year undergraduate degree, passing the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), 4 years of medical school and 3-8 years of internship, residency and fellowship. Medical schools are highly competitive and require top grades and test scores to be granted admission.

Board exams are taken for licensure and the medical provider must participate in continuous learning to maintain licensure. In addition to urgent care centers, doctors also work in hospitals, primary care offices/general medicine, community health clinics, they teach at universities and medical schools, and of course can pursue specializations in Cardiology, Pulmonology, Neurology, Oncology, Surgery etc. Doctors also participate and publish pertinent medical research, advancing medical treatments and practice.

At AFC Doctors Express Urgent Care North Andover, our physicians are general practitioners, meaning their skills are perfectly suited for an urgent care center. Most general practitioner physicians spent their residency in internal medicine – a specialty emphasizing the diagnosis and treatment of general illnesses and diseases in relation to the internal organs. Internists, who aspire to be specialists, will spend their internships working alongside physicians who work in their desired field. Our center employs four board-certified physicians, who individually bring different elements of expertise to make our facility the ideal full-service destination for urgent care services.

Nurse Practitioner (NP): A nurse practitioner is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse who has completed a master’s or doctorate degree and extensive clinical training. They make up an integral part of the medical community. Our center’s nurse practitioners treat and diagnose a range of acute injuries and can additionally conduct a number of testing services. Responsibilities include prescribing medication, obtain medical histories, perform physical exams, diagnose and treat common illnesses and injuries, order screening exams, interpret laboratory data, educate about health promotion and management of chronic diseases and provide referrals to any specialists. Many nurse practitioners have previously worked in nursing, lending incredible knowledge and skills to their role as a medical provider. During their graduate work they receive extensive training, which allows them to perform general medical services for patients of all ages. This training and experience also makes NP’s qualified to supervise a team of technicians, assistants and clerical staff. On average, nurse practitioners spend 6-8 years in college. The NP must pass a licensing board exam to practice medicine and the medical provider must participate in continuous learning to maintain licensure. In addition to urgent care centers, nurse practitioners also work in hospitals, primary care offices, college health centers, specialty offices, community health clinics and teach at universities. Nurse practitioners also participate and publish pertinent medical research. Some nurse practitioners own, operate, and manage their own clinics. Our nurse practitioners here at AFC Doctors Express Urgent Care North Andover often act as our patients’ primary point of contact for several medical needs.

Physician’s Assistant (PA): physician’s assistants are in high demand, as they offer people in even the most rural areas quality health care, without needing to see a licensed physician. While the majority of licensed physician’s assistants have a specific field of medicine that they specialize in; physician’s assistants primarily are versed in a general set of medical skills. This makes them a staple in urgent care clinics, as they have the requisite skills necessary to provide most urgent care services. Like nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants can also prescribe medication, obtain medical histories, perform physical exams, diagnose and treat common illnesses and injuries, order screening exams, interpret laboratory data, educate about health promotion and management of chronic diseases and provide referrals to any specialist. PA’s typically work under the direct supervision of a physician, whom they help with a variety of services. In addition to urgent care centers, PA’s also work in hospitals, primary care offices, college health centers, specialty offices, community health clinics and teach at universities. PA’s also participate and publish pertinent medical research. Physician’s assistants have a four-year college degree, in addition to a Master’s or doctorate degree. They must pass a licensing board examination to practice medicine and participate in continuous learning to maintain licensure. They have extensive clinical training, which allows them to perform general medical services for patients of all ages. This experience also makes them qualified to supervise a team of technicians, assistants and clerical staff.

The physicians, physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners at Doctors Express possess the skills and expertise to provide our Merrimack Valley patients with impeccable care. Next time you’re feeling ill, have a nasty cut, or have taken a bad fall, come visit us at 129 Turnpike St in North Andover or 380R Merrimack St in Methuen.

Marie Sacco MSN, FNP-C is Family Nurse Practitioner who specializes in primary care. In addition to owning and operating her own primary care practice at 790 Turnpike St in North Andover, she also spends 1-2 shifts a week at Doctors Express Urgent Care Centers in both Methuen and North Andover

ValleyPatriot

ValleyPatriot

The Valley Patriot is a free monthly journal of news, commentary, and events, serving Northern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire.

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2 Responses to Knowing the Differences Between Physicians, Physician’s Assistants, & Nurse Practitioners

  1. Larry Wilson Reply

    March 3, 2016 at 6:20 PM

    Hi Marie.

    Thank you for sharing, but as usual there are always corrections to be made.

    1. A physician is someone who has finished medical school, period. There are practicing physicians who have done nothing more than an intern year and have never completed a residency or sat for a board exam.

    – Sidebar; although there are academic components to a residency, I reject the notion of residency being used to describe their qualifications. A residency is more accurately three years where they work on the cheap in a subsidized position according to the traditions of medicine.

    2. Not all physicians are board certified, and there is a growing resistance to board certification.

  2. ruralmed Reply

    March 6, 2016 at 12:53 AM

    It is physician assistant, NOT physician’s assistant. Thanks!

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