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MD, DO, PA, NP: What’s the Difference?

Published on Aug. 24, 2030

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Healthcare Provider Credentials – What Do These Letters Mean?

Nearly every profession has its own unique language. Using professional vernacular allows experts to streamline their communication so they can be more efficient in their respective career fields. In healthcare, many medical professionals get licenses, certifications, and additional training beyond their degrees – and with it comes those puzzling letters you see at the end of their names. 

Medical initials can seem pretty confusing or even intimidating. What do all these letters mean? How does it all affect your care? Here are some common credentials you’ll see at Munson Healthcare and what they stand for. 

Nurse Credentials in a Nutshell 

  • RN – Registered Nurse. RNs provide patient care after graduating from a nursing program and passing a licensing exam. Nurses can specialize in specific areas of care, such as home care or labor and delivery. 
  • NP – Nurse Practitioner. A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse with a master’s degree in nursing. NPs can prescribe treatments and medication as well as order tests. They often perform in a primary care provider role. 

After graduating from an accredited Nurse Practitioner program, NPs can also become board-certified in specialty areas, some of which include: 

  • WHNP: Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner 
  • PNP: Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
  • NNP: Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
  • FNP: Family Nurse Practitioner
  • AG-ACNP: Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
  • ACNP: Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

CRNA – Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. CRNAs are advanced practice registered nurses who administer anesthesia and other types of medication. 

CNM – Certified Nurse Midwife. A CNM is a registered nurse with additional training to provide care before, during, and after pregnancy. CNMs also work closely with an obstetrician and assist with labor and delivery. 

MD vs DO – What’s the difference? 

Whether a doctor-in-training chooses an MD or DO degree program, they are both highly-trained medical professionals who graduated from a medical school.

Both MDs and DOs complete a residency program, take board certification exams, can choose to specialize in a specific area of medicine, and can even become board-certified in another area of treatment.

Both MDs and DOs can prescribe medication, diagnose and treat illness and injury, and compassionately promote health. 

The main difference is the philosophy behind their studies.

  • MD – Medical Doctor. Medical doctors are allopathic doctors, which means they practice conventional or mainstream medicine. 
  • DO – Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. DOs are also fully trained and licensed physicians who practice holistic and preventive health in addition to mainstream medicine. They attend an osteopathic medical school to learn additional practices such as manual medicine or hands-on therapies that improve movement and reduce pain.

What about PAs?

Physician Assistants or PAs are licensed to practice medicine and can also choose a medical subspecialty. PAs can diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medication, and order and interpret tests.

Like NPs, PAs often act as a patient’s primary care provider, working with DOs and MDs to provide healthcare. The main difference between a physician and a physician assistant is that MDs and DOs spend more time in school and clinical rotations before independently practicing medicine. 

“Whether your primary care provider is an NP, a PA, a DO, or an MD, you can trust that you’re receiving high-quality care,” says Julie Smeltzer, Director of Provider Services Verification, Compliance, and Recruitment for Munson Healthcare.

What Is a Fellowship-Trained Provider?

Some physicians opt to do additional, more specialized training beyond their required residency, called a fellowship. Completing a fellowship in a subspecialty allows physicians to hone their expertise in their chosen field of medicine.

You'll know if a physician is fellowship-trained when you see the letters "F" or "FA" following their name. 

Some examples include: 

  • FACC – Fellow of the American College of Cardiology
  • FAAP – Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • FACEP – Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians

Here for Your Health

No matter what letters you see displayed behind your provider’s name, you can trust that every healthcare professional at Munson Healthcare is highly trained to ensure you are receiving the best care. 

“We are so fortunate to have the breadth and depth of experience and training within our medical staff throughout our facilities within Munson Healthcare, with such diversity of specialization and certifications,” says Julie Smeltzer.  

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