R5 Alphamedical Soup

Healthcare is now the largest industry in our economy, with more than 14 million medical professionals. From surgeons, dentists, and physicians to certified nurse practitioners and psychopharmacologists, healthcare comprises myriad professions—each with its own sea of confusing abbreviations and subtle, but important, distinctions in levels of training and capabilities. And who has the time or energy to ask what those letters following the name of the person treating you actually mean? Here, we break them down for you, one string of letters at a time.


Title Education What do they do? What don’t they do?
Registered Nurse

2-year registered nursing program or 4-year bachelor’s degree nursing program

Usually serve in a supervisory position, overseeing LPNs and CNAs

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Implement and execute physician’s care and treatment orders

Diagnose and treat basic health problems

Start IVs or administer blood transfusions

Make initial clinical assessments, including physical examination and medical history

Prescribe medication

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Nurse Practitioner

An RN who has additionally completed either a master’s program in nursing or other postgraduate work in a specialty area

Advanced education in assessment and care-planning

Perform physical exams, order lab tests

Diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications within specialty area of practice

Patient assessment to determine a plan of care

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Administer vaccinations

Order and interpret lab tests and X-rays

Manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure

Licensed Practical Nurse

High school diploma

At least a 9-month practical nursing study

Provide primary bedside care

Prescribe medication

Start IVs and administer blood transfusions

Make clinical assessments

Certified Nursing Assistant

High school diploma

Completion of a minimum 75-hour nursing-assistant training program

Provide basic, daily care of patients such as assistance with grooming, bathing, and eating

Measure vital signs

Prescribe medicine

Diagnose or treat an illness or injury

Perform health care assessments


Continue reading for medical abbreviations for Physicians & Assistants, Eye Care, and Mental Health


Physicians & Assistants

Title Education What do they do? What don’t they do?
Doctor of Medicine

4-year allopathic (traditional) medical school

Minimum 2-year residency in chosen specialty

Diagnose, treat, operate (if trained in a surgical residency), and prescribe drugs for illness and injury

Doctor of Osteopathy

A 4-year program similar to that of MDs, with additional training in the musculoskeletal and nervous systems

Residency in chosen specialty

Same as MDs, except DOs also practice osteopathic manipulative treatment (hands-on manual therapy of joints and muscles), and tend to employ a more holistic approach in treatment

Doctor of Podiatric Medicine

4-year podiatric medical program after college

A 2- or 3-year residency

Diagnose, treat, and prevent foot, ankle, and leg (below the knee) disorders

Prescribe drugs and physical therapy

Perform surgery and set fractures

Podiatrists may prescribe medicine but are restricted to prescribing for conditions affecting the foot, ankle, and leg (below the knee)

Physician’s Assistant

2- or 3-year graduate program, leading to a master’s degree in physician assistant studies, health science, or medical science

Practice medicine under the supervision of a physician (though the supervision need not be on-site)

Similar to nurse practitioners; however they differ in training. NPs often are educated in a specialty area, while PAs study the wider spectrum of medical care

Practice medicine independently


Eye Care

MD or DO

Surgeon with completed residency in ophthalmology

Diagnose and treat disorders of the eye; perform surgical procedures on the eye, including laser

Prescribe medication, glasses, contact lenses

Optometrist (Doctor of Optometry)

4-year graduate program of clinical and classroom training

Same as ophthalmologists in the diagnosing and treating (non-surgically) of eye disorders

Admit patients or handle inpatient cases

Surgical intervention

Prescription privileges are restricted to conditions of the eye


2-year associate’s degree
2-year on-the-job training

Fill prescriptions for contact lenses and glasses ordered by an ophthalmologist or optometrist

Help choose and adjust glasses

Perform eye exams

Prescribe medication

Diagnose eye and vision problems


Mental Health

MD or DO

A medical doctor (MD or DO) who has completed a 4-year residency in psychiatry

Prescribe drugs

Talk therapy

Conduct physical examinations

PhD or PsyD
Clinical Psychologist

5-7 years of graduate study in psychology only (not medicine)

1-2 years of supervised clinical experience

Talk therapy to diagnose, treat, and prevent mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders

Research and teaching (PhD is more research and academically oriented than PsyD, which places greater emphasis on being a practitioner)

Prescribe medication


Licensed psychiatrist (MD or DO) with advanced training and expertise in pharmacology

Concentrate on the pharmaceutical treatment of mental illness

Talk therapy

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Master of Social Work degree

3-years post-degree supervised experience in diagnosis, psychotherapy, and treatment

Diagnose and treat mental, emotional, behavioral, developmental, and addictive disorders

Prescribe medication

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioner with a master’s degree or higher in nursing and advanced training and practice hours in psychiatry

Conduct emergency psychiatric evaluations and non-emergency psychological, psychosocial, and physical assessments

Develop treatment plans to manage patients’ mental health



Continue reading for medical abbreviations for Anesthesia, Physical Therapy, Dentistry, and Emergency Medicine


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Title Education What do they do? What don’t they do?

– M.D. or D.O. who has completed a 4-year residency

– Administer anesthesia and manage patient’s clinical care before, during, and after surgery
– Administer pain medication
– Some sub-specialize in pain management
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) – Bachelor of Science in Nursing
– Licensed as a RN
– Advanced training in a nurse anesthetist program
– Administer anesthesia
– Help manage patient’s clinical care before, during, and after surgery
– There are no specific restrictions on CRNA’s in New York. Any restrictions are determined by the hospital or medical office in which the CRNA practices


Physical Therapy

Orthopedic Surgeon – MD or DO, plus a five-year residency (one in general surgery, four in orthopedic surgery) – Treat and operate on musculoskeletal injuries and conditions
– Prescribe medicine
Physiatrist – MD or DO, plus a three-year residency and one-year studying clinical – Diagnose and treat disorders in muscles, bones, connective tissues, and nerves without surgery
– Prescribe medication
Perform surgery
Registered Physical Therapist
– Master’s program in physical therapy – Assesses and treats musculoskeletal disorders to improve movement and function (gross motor skills involving mobility and posture) – Prescribe medication
– Perform surgery
Physical Therapist Assistant
– 2-year PTA program – Carry out treatment according to plan developed by a RPT – Diagnose and prescribe treatment
DC Chiropractor  (Doctor of Chiropractic) – 2- to 4- year undergraduate
– 4-year graduate chiropractic training, plus minimum 1-year internship
– Diagnose and treat musculoskeletal problems
– Treatment of health problems via manual therapy including spinal manipulation and other joint and soft-tissue manipulation
– Prescribe medication
– Perform surgery
Occupational Therapist (OT) – Master’s degree in occupational therapy
– At least 6 months of supervised clinical experience
– Restore or improve physical abilities (including fine motor skills involving hand-eye coordination and self-care skills such as feeding, dressing, hygiene) after impairment from illness (e.g., stroke) or injury  
Audiologist (AUD) – Master’s degree in audiology (the study of hearing and hearing related disorders)
– 9 months supervised clinical experience
– Diagnose and treat hearing and communication problems
– Dispense hearing aids



Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)

Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)

– Bachelors degree
– 4-year dentistry program, followed by dental residency
– There is no difference between DDS and DMD education programs
– Diagnose, treat, operate, and prescribe for any condition of the mouth
– Must be specially certified to administer anesthesia and other sedation

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

– M.D. or D.D.S.
– 4-6-year graduate degree in dentistry
– At least 4 years in a hospital surgical residency program
– Advanced training in anesthesia
– Diagnose and treat injuries and defects of head, neck, face and jaws, as long as mouth is involved
– Perform reconstructive and dental surgery

Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH)

– Certificate, associate’s or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene (minimum two years classroom training)
– High school diploma
– Provide basic dental hygienic care and treatment of cavities and gum disease under supervision of a dentist
– With additional certification, can administer and monitor local anesthesia and nitrous oxide under supervision of a dentist
– Diagnose and prescribe for conditions of the mouth

Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)

– 1-year course of college study
– High school diploma
– Take preliminary medical history, prepare dental and surgical tools and equipment for hygienist and dentist
– Under supervision of a dentist: remove stitches, provide topical desensitizing and cavity-preventing agents and take teeth impressions
– Administer anesthesia
– Diagnose, treat and prescribe for conditions of the mouth


Emergency Medicine

E.M.T. (Basic) – 120-150 hours of training in emergency medical care program – Perform non-invasive, pre-hospital emergency and life-saving medical care for sudden illness and injuries
– Administer oxygen, asthma inhalers, epinephrine, and glucose
– Perform defibrillation
– Give injections or start intravenous drugs and fluids
– Advanced airway management
E.M.T.-P (Paramedic) – 1,200-1,800 hours of training
– Highest level of pre-hospital certification
– Can administer 30-40 medications including dopamine, lidocane and morphine
– Administer IV drugs and fluids
– Conduct advanced cardiac monitoring
– Provide breathing support through advanced airway management (oxygen administration, bag valve ventilation and other devices to maintain an open airway)


Rx 101

In today’s expansive, complex health-care system, it’s not just your family doctor who can write a prescription. While MDs and DOs are able to prescribe any kind of medication, certain other medical professionals are also authorized to prescribe in New York State, though in some cases with restrictions.

Title Prescribe Medicine Restrictions
MD Yes  
DO Yes Prescribe for any condition of the foot, ankle, leg (below-the-knee)
DDS/DMD Yes Prescribe for any condition of the mouth
Nurse Practitioner Yes  
Registered Nurse No  
Psychiatrist * Yes  
Clinical Psychologist No There is a movement to give psychologists prescription privileges
Oral Surgeon * Yes  
Physiatrist * Yes  
Physician’s Assistant Yes Can prescribe only under the supervision of a physician (M.D. or D.O.)
Psychopharmacologist * Yes  
Chiropractor No  
Anesthesiologist * Yes  
Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner Yes  
Orthopedic Surgeon * Yes  
Podiatrists Yes  

* By definition, these medical professionals are either an MD or DO

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