MD, DO, PA: What do all those letters mean?

jumbled alphabet

The differences between medical degrees

Confused about the difference between an MD, DO, PA, and NP? You aren’t the only one. Here is a quick primer to get you up to speed.

MD stands for doctor of medicine. It is a designation that indicates someone who has completed medical school. To be an MD, you must finish four years of medical school and receive another three years of training through residency. After residency, you can pursue further training and become certified as a specialist in a certain field, like orthopedics, cardiovascular, neurology, etc.

DO is a doctor of osteopathy. Doctors of osteopathy attend four years of medical school, complete three-year residencies and can also choose to specialize after their training. The DO training focuses on primary care and emphasizes a whole-person approach to medicine. They also receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system and learn how to providetreatment for muscles and joints using techniques such as stretching, gentle pressure and resistance.

PA, or physician assistant, is licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. They undergo three years of training. PAs will often perform physical exams, diagnose ailments, request and interpret tests, provide advice on preventive health care, assist in surgery andcan write prescriptions.Though supervised by an MD or DO, physician assistants are able to operate with independence when making decisions.

An NP is a nurse practitioner. An NP is a registered nurse with enhanced training and education. They can act as a primary care provider to diagnose and care for patients, or they can work in a specialty. Nurse practitioners must have a master’s degree in nursing and a certification to practice as a nurse practitioner.

If you are looking for a medical provider, check with your insurance company to see who is in your network or use our handy online directory to see all Salem Health providers.

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