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Medical Professionals You Are Likely To Run Into In A Doctor's Office, Hospital Or Other Medical Facility

Overall medical care

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Physicians (MD): The person in charge of the medical team. Their white coat is the longest of any medical professional. MDs hae 3 to 7 yeras of training after medical school.

There are a variety of doctors:

  • Primary physician (MD):
    • Your personal overall doctor. He or she may be a general practitioner, an internist, gynecologist or family practice doctor.
    • This doctor discusses your diagnosis with you and may be in charge of coordinating your treatment. Usually a primary care physician sends you to an specialist such as an oncologist (a cancer doctor).
  • Specialist: 
    • A doctor who with additional education and training who specializes in a particular area of medicine. For example, an oncologist specializes in cancer (oncology).
    • There may be a variety of divisions within a speciality. For instance, with cancer there is a:
      • Medical oncologist: The medical doctor who is usually in charge of your cancer. The medical oncologist prescribes treatment and refers you to other specialists. He or she also keeps in touch with other members of your medical team.
      • Radiation oncologist: Specializes in radiation treatment
      • Surgical oncologist: Specializes in surgery relating to cancer

Pathologist: A medical doctor who examines tissue samples removed during a surgical procedure. A pathologist is trained to look at cells under a microscope and identify diseases. A pathologist determines the type and stage of cancer. He or she issues a report known as a "pathology report." The pathology report describes the type of cancer and stage.


  • Registered nurse (RN): A nurse with an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing who has passed a state licensing exam. A RN can monitor your condition, provide treatment, educate you about side effects, and help you adjust physically and emotionally to cancer.

  • Nurse practitioner (NP): A Registered Nurse with a master's or doctoral degree plus advanced clinical training. A nurse practitioner can diagnose and manage cancer. In many states, a nurse practitioner can prescribe drugs.  IIt also depends on the state whether a nurse practitioner can practice wtihout supervision from physicians. 

  • Oncology-certified nurse: A nurse with a master's degree in oncology.

Physician Assistant (PA): An assistant to the doctor who takes care of routine matters such as taking your blood pressure or telling you about your condition or a proposed treatment.

Office Manager: The person who manages your doctor's office. He or she is the "go to" person for practical information, to help get an appointment when the doctor is fully booked or a doctor to whom you have been referred doesn't have a reasonably immediate time to see you. The office manager usually has information about your disease, or can point you in the direction of finding that information.

Social Worker: A health specialist with a degree in social work, generally licensed or certified by the state. A social worker coordinates and provides nonmedical care, including help dealing with a variety of emotional and practical problems (such as child care, finances, family and relationship concerns).

Medical Student: A doctor in training. Usually wears a hip-length white coat. He or she can take a medical history, but the prescribing of medications or diagnostic tests needs approval from a supervising doctor.

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