Do You Know the ABCs of Health Care?

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After finally figuring out your insurance, you’re ready to pick your perfect primary care provider. But — surprise! — the decision-making process isn’t as straightforward as you’d expected. Despite what TV shows Doogie Howser, Dr. Quinn, and House have led you to believe, an MD is not the be-all, end-all of medical degrees (although it’s a great one).

At One Medical, patients can choose primary care providers from a variety of backgrounds, all committed to a common goal: your health. All of our board-certified providers are qualified to make diagnoses, order tests, prescribe medications, refer to specialists, manage chronic conditions, and provide counseling on prevention and wellness.

But we realize all the acronyms can be a bit confusing, so allow us to break down what all those letters mean and offer a little insight from some of our assorted experts:

DO: Doctor of Osteopathy

Jonathan Vitale

Jonathan Vitale, DO

The DO is an alternate degree for physicians that emphasizes the role of the musculoskeletal system in health and disease. The main difference between osteopathic and allopathic doctors is that some DOs provide manual therapies like spinal manipulation or massage therapy, as part of their treatment. DOs at One Medical typically specialize in either family or internal medicine and can handle all primary care cases, but can also incorporate manual therapies to diagnose and treat everything from muscle pain to migraines.

“As an osteopathic family physician, I understand that the mind and body are intricately connected and not a dichotomy,” says Jonathan Vitale, a DO in New York. “Patients seek me out when they want a doctor who sees them as a whole person and who understands the complexities of their life from a biopsychosocial perspective.”

NP: Nurse Practitioner

The NP is a degree for registered nurses who complete master’s-level training and get board certification to practice medicine. Because of their nursing background, NPs emphasize patient-centered care. They can specialize in a variety of areas: FNPs are family NPs and care for people across the lifespan, ANPs are adult NPs trained in caring for patients 14 and up, and WHNPs are women’s health NPs. Some specialize even further, like Bethany Reed, an Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner otherwise known as an AGPCNP-BC.

Niru Somasundaram

Niru Somasundaram, NP

NPs routinely diagnose and treat acute issues and chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes and educate patients on healthy lifestyle choices and disease prevention.

“As a teenager, I saw an NP at Planned Parenthood, and I remember feeling like that person was really my advocate and on my side, helping me make the right decisions,” says Niru Somasundaram, an NP in New York. “That really impacted me. I did a lot of other things before I chose this career path, but I always knew I wanted to do something with women and health care, and becoming an NP was the quickest way I knew how to really make an impact in both areas.”

PA: Physician Assistant

Whether called PA or PA-C (the C means certified), PAs are providers with extensive practical training and are licensed to practice medicine, including the full range of diagnosis, treatment and prevention on a team with physicians.

Greg Sauers

Greg Sauers, PA-C

In general, PAs can perform the full spectrum of primary care services including diagnosing and treating illnesses, prescribing medications, and even assisting in certain surgeries.

“I love being a PA because my job has such flexibility,” says Greg Sauers, a physician assistant in San Francisco. “I can be an internal medicine PA one day and a dermatology PA the next — PAs are licensed and board-certified across all fields of medicine. Plus, at One Medical I get to work with such amazing MD, DO, NP, and other PA colleagues, and for the most part, we’re all equal providers.”

ND: Naturopathic Doctor

This is a degree for providers who practice naturopathic medicine. Naturopathy is based on the belief that the human body has an innate ability to heal itself. Initial treatments are minimally invasive therapies that often include lifestyle and diet modifications. If additional therapies are necessary, they may include herbs, supplementation, counseling, and more.

Erica Matluck

Erica Matluck, ND, NP

NDs treat all medical conditions within the scope of primary care medicine. They often help patients with conditions that respond well to non-pharmacologic therapies, including digestive complaints, allergies, hormonal imbalances, weight management, menopause, stress management, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and skin conditions. In certain states, NDs are licensed to perform minor surgeries, such as removing cysts or stitching up superficial wounds.

During my naturopathic training I completed a three-month clinical rotation in a hospital in rural Nicaragua,” says Erica Matluck who is both a naturopath and nurse practitioner in San Francisco. “I worked with a variety of health care providers there and realized that nursing and naturopathy are rooted in one major tenet: patient education. I also saw firsthand how much naturopathic medicine had to offer communities with limited resources. After that experience, I felt compelled to make integrative medicine more accessible and affordable. Having both licenses allows me to work with populations that may not normally have access to or awareness about integrative care.”

Ready to find the right provider to fit your needs? Scroll through the options in your area and see which ones you click with.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.