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Do You Need an MD? Who to See at The Doctor's Office: A Quick Guide

Nonstop Administration & Insurance Services

You might think choosing a doctor is all about selecting a traditional Medical Doctor (MD), but increasingly there are more options on who you get to see when you go to the doctor. Some people may be surprised or wary of seeing someone other than an MD during a doctor’s visit, but if it’s a non-serious issue, or something that came up unexpectedly that needs immediate attention, seeing another type of care provider within your network can save you quite a bit of time and money—these specialties often charge less and have more flexible schedules.

Depending on what you’re looking for in terms of approach, background, and flexibility, another option like an NP or PA might be a better choice for your needs or the medical service you’re seeking out. But these acronyms can sound obscure and be confusing, so first, let’s aim for some clarity.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

In order to become an NP, a nurse must start with an undergraduate degree in nursing (BSN) and pass the exam to become a Registered Nurse (RN). In addition, they must complete either a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. NPs typically spend five to eight years in school or training. An NP can have restricted, reduced or full-practice autonomy. It depends on the state they are employed in. All NPs can prescribe medications, though the types may differ. Most NPs practice primary care, but they can choose to specialize.

Physician Assistant (PA)

A PA is different from a nurse and often has an educational background that mirrors that of a physician. For instance, a PA could have majored in a variety of undergraduate programs including biology or chemistry. Though a PA is not the same as a physician, they still received extensive training; PA education typically lasts for about seven years. What makes a PA a little bit different is that they have restricted autonomy. Unlike NPs, most PAs can and do specialize.

Doctor of Medicine (MD)

An MD is someone who completed an undergraduate degree either in a specialty pre-med program or majoring in a science-related to medicine, such as biology or chemistry. They must then complete two years of medical school and two years of a type of medical internship where they’ll learn about different specialties, to help them choose their own focus. After completing their fourth year, medical students become physicians and enter into their residency period for at least three years before being able to practice independently. Altogether, most MDs in the United State spends eleven or more years in school or training. After that, they’ll practice either primary care or their specialty of choice.

Each of these clinicians brings something different to the room, they can often take slightly different approaches to both patients and problems, so it's really about what your needs are in terms of time, scheduling, as well as medical care.


The information and materials herein are provided for general information purposes only and are not intended to constitute legal or other advice or opinions on any specific matters and are not intended to replace the advice of a qualified attorney, plan provider or other professional advisor. This information has been taken from sources believed to be reliable, but there is no guarantee as to its accuracy. This communication does not constitute a legal opinion and should not be relied upon for any purpose other than its intended educational purpose.

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