As healthcare evolves, you may notice that your once-intimate doctor’s office is now full of busy looking people. The days of one doc, one nurse, and one receptionist are fading. Doctors’ offices now have nurse practitioners and physician assistants, as well as doctors—all seeing and treating patients. But who are all these people and what do they all do exactly? Here are the five professionals you might have contact with in your pediatrician’s office.
Receptionist—As you enter a medical office, you are greeted by a receptionist who checks insurance cards and is generally responsible for the paperwork associated with your visit.
Medical Assistant—The person who calls you back into a room is often a MA or medical assistant. Medical assistants are responsible for obtaining your child’s measurements and blood pressure. They may ask you medical history questions such as allergies to medication and what medications your child is currently taking. They give immunizations, test vision and hearing, and collect lab specimens such as urine or blood. Becoming a medical assistant takes about a year and includes coursework and some time on the job learning skills.
Nurse—In the past, many of the jobs done by the medical assistant were performed by a nurse. Today, nurses in pediatric offices generally work behind the scenes, talking with families over the phone. They help you decide when to come in and give tips about breastfeeding or how to manage common issues that don’t require an office visit. Or they work educating families or coordinating care for complicated issues.
Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP)—An advanced registered nurse practitioner or ARNP is a nurse who has undergone extensive additional training. For most, that means a total of 6-8 years of school and years of work in the field of nursing and then alongside physicians. They do all the things an MA and nurse do but can also perform full physical exams, minor procedures, diagnose disease, and prescribe medication. They are often excellent resources for families and work hard to stay up to date on the latest pediatric clinical information. They work side by side with your doctor in the office.
Physician Assistant—Many offices also have a physician assistant, or PA. PAs attend school full-time for 2-3 years after finishing college. There they learn in a similar way to medical students, although less in depth. After school they often complete short “residencies” or additional training years in the field of their choice. Like ARNP’s, they work side by side with your pediatrician in the office.
Reviewed by Dr. Heather Felton, April 2020
- Medical offices are busy places with several different types of practitioners.
- MA’s are usually the first people you see when entering the exam room.
- Ask to speak to the nurse when you call the office with a medical question. They are often more available to talk than the doctor.
- Your doctor may work alongside ARNP’s or PA’s to provide your child medical care.