Family Practice can be considered a generalized specialty. Family physicians undergo an additional 3 years of residency training beyond medical school. This training includes pediatrics (newborn to adolescence), internal medicine, women’s health, sports medicine, surgery, and geriatrics. This broad range of training prepares family physicians to handle a large variety of problems that present to a physician’s office. Those problems beyond the expertise to the family physician are referred on to the appropriate specialist.
Physician Assistants are health care professionals who are licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. A Physician Assistant (PA) is trained with an intensive education using the medical model that is designed to complement physician training. The training is usually 24 months and can result in a certificate, bachelors degree or masters degree. After graduation, a PA must pass a national certification board exam before beginning to practice. Like a physician, a Physician Assistant is trained to take a patient history, perform physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, and perform minor office procedures. In most states, including Colorado, a PA can write prescriptions. PAs focus on preventive medicine, patient education and quality time with their patients. Physician Assistants exercise autonomy in medical decision making within the context of the supervising physician-PA relationship. Most PAs practice in primary care, though some decide to specialize in areas like surgery, orthopedics or pediatrics.
Family Nurse Practitioners are registered nurses with a Master’s Degree in Nursing. Their training also involves a broad range of specialties and enables the Family Nurse Practitioner to see many of the patients presenting to a physician’s office with less complicated problems. Nurse Practitioners strive to treate the whole patient from a wellness perspective. They have prescription privileges and can prescribe most prescription medications.