Definitions of Medical Titles

What's a PA-C?

A PA-C is a Certified Physician Assistant. A PA-C is a mid-level medical practitioner who works under the supervision of a licensed doctor (an MD) or osteopathic physician (a DO).

The physician assistant came about in the 1960s as a response to the need for more clinicians (there was a shortage of family physicians) and better access to health care. The first PA program was developed by Dr. Eugene Stead, chairman of the Department of Medicine at Duke University, to train PAs for rural areas with dwindling numbers of physicians and nurses.

Today the term "physician assistant" has a more precise definition as it applies to the mid-level practitioner who is able to practice medicine under the auspices of a licensed physician. Although the physician need not be present during the time the PA performs his or her duties, there must be a method of contact between the supervising physician and the PA at all times. The PA must be competent in the duties he or she is performing and the physician for whom the PA is working must also be licensed and trained to perform the relevant duties.

Examples of the duties of a general PA include:

Medical histories and physical examinations: a PA is usually can perform histories and physical examinations that do not go beyond a particular level.

Laboratory tests: a PA can order any test which he or she is competent to interpret and provide the appropriate treatment.

Follow-up: PAs follow patients through their hospital course, their course of treatment in a clinic setting, etc.

PAs can practice in virtually all medical and surgical specialties, provided they are properly trained and supervised. Thus, PAs can be 2nd and 3rd assists in surgical procedures and can perform simple surgical procedures such as laceration repair, etc.

A PA must have at least a bachelor's degree. Although there is not yet a requirement to hold a degree beyond the bachelor's level, the current trend is for PAs to have a master's degree.

PA training programs are accredited by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Each state in the U.S. has its own specific licensing and practicing restrictions for PAs. Most states require PAs to pass the certification examination of the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.

What's an ARNP?

An ARNP is an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner. ARNP is the State of Iowa's accreditation for Nurse Practitioners (NP) in the state.

An NP is a registered nurse (RN) who has advanced education and clinical training program in a health care specialty such as pediatrics, women's health or gerontology (elder care). NP's practice under the rules and regulation of the Nurse Practice Act of the state in which they work. Most NP's are nationally certified in their specialty area.

An NP may serve as a primary direct provider of health care for children and adults. An NP can:

  • perform physical examinations
  • diagnose and treat acute health problems and chronic diseases
  • prescribe medications and other treatments
  • order, perform and interpret diagnostic studies such as lab work and x-rays
  • do health care research rather than patient care
  • collaborate with physicians on other health professionals as needed.

Each ARNP completes additional training in a specialty field. Specialty nurse practitioner certifications including: the adult nurse practitioner, advanced practice nurse, certified nurse midwife, certified nurse practitioner, certified registered nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, clinical specialist in mental health nursing, family nurse practitioner, gerontological nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, and school nurse practitioner.

Usually these specialties are abbreviated and follow an ARNP's name and NP creditentials. For example: Mary F. O'Connor, ARNP, FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner).

What's an MD?

An MD is a Doctor of Medicine. MD is the abbreviation for the Latin title Medicinae Doctor.

All medical schools in the United States and Canada award an Doctorate of Medicine degree, usually after 4 years undergraduate study at a college or university followed by 4 years of medical school. (Some medical schools award the MD after 3 years of college and/or 3 years of medical school).

What's a DO?

A DO is a Doctor of Ostopathy (or Osteopathic Medicine). Osteopathy is a system of therapy founded in the 19th century based on the concept that the body can formulate its own remedies against diseases when the body is in a normal structural relationship, has a normal environment and enjoys good nutrition.

DO's attend Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine which emphasize preparing students to be primary care physicians. DOs practice a "whole person" approach to medicine and tend to focus on preventive health care.

What's a DPM?

A DPM is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine. Podiatry is a field of medicine that strives to improve the overall health and well-being of patients by focusing on preventing, diagnosing, and treating conditions associated with the foot and ankle. DPM's are physicians and surgeons who practice on the lower extremities, primarily on feet and ankles. The preparatory education of most DPMs includes four years of undergraduate work, followed by four years in an accredited podiatric medical school, followed by a hospital-based residency. DPMs are licensed in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to diagnose and treat the foot and its related or governing structures by medical, surgical, or other means. The vast majority of states also include ankle care as part of the podiatric physician's scope of practice.

Similarities between DOs and MDs:

There are many similarities between DO's and MD's:

  • Applicants to both DO and MD medical colleges typically have a four-year undergraduate degree with an emphasis on scientific courses.
  • Both DOs and MDs complete four years of basic medical education.
  • After medical school, both DOs and MDs can choose to practice in a specialty area of medicine -- such as surgery, family practice or psychiatry--after completing a residency program (typically two to six years of additional training).
  • Both DOs and MDs must pass comparable state licensing exams.
  • DOs and MDs both practice in fully accredited and licensed health care facilities.