Doctors and nurses - different types

Alternative names
Physicians and nuses - different types; Health care provider types; Types of health care providers; Nurses and doctors - different types


This article describes health professionals who provide primary care, nursing care, and specialty care. This is just one way of organizing the many types of health care providers.


A primary care provider (PCP) is a person you may see first for checkups and health problems. If you have a health care plan, find out what type of practitioner can serve as your PCP.

  • The term “generalist” often refers to medical doctors (MDs) and doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) who specialize in internal medicine, family practice, or pediatrics.  
  • OB/GYNs are doctors who specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, including women’s health care, wellness, and prenatal care. Many women use an OB/GYN as their primary care provider.  
  • Nurse practitioners (NPs) are nurses with graduate training. They can serve as a primary care provider in family medicine (FNP), pediatrics (PNP), adult care (ANP), or geriatrics (GNP). Others are trained to address women’s health care (common concerns and routine screenings) and family planning. In some states NPs can prescribe medications.  
  • A physician assistant (PA) can provide a wide range of services in collaboration with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Osteopathy (DO).


  • Registered nurses (RNs) have graduated from a nursing program, have passed a state board examination, and are licensed by the state.  
  • Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are state-licensed caregivers who have been trained to care for the sick.  
  • Advanced practice nurses have education and experience beyond the basic training and licensing required of all RNs. This includes nurse practitioners (NPs) and the following:       o Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) have training in a field such as cardiac, psychiatric, or community health.       o Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) have training in women’s health care needs, including prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care.       o Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) have training in the field of anesthesia.


Your primary care provider may refer you to professionals in various specialties when necessary, such as:

  • Allergy and asthma  
  • Anesthesiology - general anesthesia or spinal block for surgeries and some forms of pain control  
  • Cardiology - heart disorders  
  • Dermatology - skin disorders  
  • Endocrinology - hormonal and metabolic disorders, including diabetes  
  • Gastroenterology - digestive system disorders  
  • General surgery - common surgeries involving any part of the body  
  • Hematology - blood disorders  
  • Immunology - disorders of the immune system  
  • Infectious disease - infections affecting the tissues of any body system  
  • Nephrology - kidney disorders  
  • Neurology - nervous system disorders  
  • Obstetrics/gynecology - pregnancy women’s reproductive disorders  
  • Oncology - cancer treatment  
  • Ophthalmology - eye disorders and surgery  
  • Orthopedics - bone and connective tissue disorders  
  • Otorhinolaryngology - ear, nose, and throat (ENT) disorders  
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitative medicine - for disorders such as low back injury, spinal cord injuries, and stroke  
  • Psychiatry - emotional or mental disorders  
  • Pulmonary (lung) - respiratory tract disorders  
  • Radiology - X-rays and related procedures (such as ultrasound, CT, and MRI)  
  • Rheumatology - pain and other symptoms related to joints and other parts of the musculoskeletal system  
  • Urology - disorders of the male reproductive and urinary tracts and the female urinary tract


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by Potos A. Aagen, M.D.

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