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If you’re headed to the doctor’s office or the neighborhood health care clinic, you may not be seeing an actual doctor. A government report says almost half of all doctors work side by side with physician assistants (PAs), certified nurse midwives (CNMs), and nurse practitioners (NPs). Although these medical professionals have advanced training and certifications, they each have different roles and abilities to treat patients and all have licenses to practice health. But what’s the difference between a PA, a CNM or an NP? These medical assistants to your local physician have extensive training and can help save you and the healthcare system money.

The Doctor is Out - Who’s Attending?

PAs, CNMs, and NPs are able to write prescriptions, order tests, and make diagnoses for patients. They are also most likely whom you’ll see at a healthcare clinic. However, they do not act alone. They work under the established guidelines that have been put in place by the doctors. These docs may not be on site but are available by telephone to help reach patients in places where they might not have access to healthcare or in minute clinic type facilities.

Physician Assistants:

These licensed practitioners conduct physical exams, take down medical histories, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, assist in surgery, and prescribe medicine. They are registered by the state and pass an accredited PA program post-grad as well as completing 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and passing a recertifying exam every 10 years. They must pass the national certifying exam as well as their program completion of training. They are represented by The American Academy of Physician Assistants in the US.

Certified Nurse Midwives:

Chances are if you’re a woman, you will come across a CNM sometime in your life. These medical practitioners are more common since they’ve been practicing in the gynecological communities since the 1920s.

They provide primary health care to women of childbearing age including: prenatal care, labor and delivery care, care after birth, gynecological exams, newborn care, assistance with family planning decisions, preconception care, menopause management, and counseling in health maintenance and disease prevention. Almost 8 percent of all births in the US have an attending CNM. They too are required to pass a national test certification and go through post graduate schooling from accredited nurse-midwifery programs. They are represented by The American College of Nurse-Midwives in the US.

Nurse Practitioners:

Registered Nurses with master's degrees, or even doctorates qualify as Nurse Practitioners. From x-rays and lab interpretation to other tests, they treat and diagnose infections, injuries, and acute and chronic diseases. The are able to prescribe medications and physical treatments, manage patients' overall care, and educate and counsel patients. Because they have advanced education beyond registered nurse prep, they are licensed in all states and may have specialty areas as well. American Academy of Nurse Practitioners provides professional development for its members. 

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