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Medical Job Abbreviations and What They Mean


The field of medicine is extremely complicated and requires a huge number of medical professionals with specialized skills. To make things a little bit easier, many job titles and degrees are abbreviated, which does help people working in the field, but it’s not always helpful for patients.

As a patient, all these acronyms can all get very confusing, especially when you’re trying to find a new doctor or figure out what each person on your care team does. Here are some of the medical job abbreviations you might come across, and what they mean.

MD – Doctor of Medicine

You’ll see an MD for most of your healthcare needs. They are physicians who are licensed to diagnose medical problems, provide or oversee treatment, and prescribe medications. A general practitioner is your “family doctor,” while specialists have additional training in areas like cardiology, cancer, pediatrics, or dermatology.

RN – Registered Nurse

When most people think of a nurse, they’re usually thinking of a registered nurse, or RN, though they are not the only type of nurse working in the field of healthcare. Registered nurses care for patients in a variety of settings, but most commonly in hospitals. A nurse is trained in many different tasks, from administering medication and taking a patient’s vital signs to helping them get out of bed and coordinating with doctors and family members.

A nurse’s role is critical. They help build trust with patients and monitor them for any changes. While doctors and other practitioners are responsible for creating treatment plans, nurses have to make sure patients stick to those protocols and support them on their road to recovery.

APRN – Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

A registered nurse typically holds an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. An advanced practice registered nurse holds a master’s degree and typically specializes in serving a specific role or a specific population, using different nursing theories. APRNs can become nurse practitioners (NP), certified nurse midwives (CNM), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA), or other specialized careers for  APRNs.

FNP/NP – (Family) Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with a master’s or doctoral degree and additional medical training. They are highly qualified healthcare providers who provide many of the same services as a doctor, but they have different levels of independence in each state. Some NPs can care for patients autonomously, but many states require physician supervision. In Florida, nurse practitioners have full practice authority, as long as they meet certain requirements.

Nurse practitioners are becoming more and more important as the United States faces a shortage of primary care physicians. NPs help people take care of their routine health needs and are reducing the patient-to-provider ratio.

CNA – Certified Nursing Assistant

CNAs work with patients, generally helping with necessary tasks including bathing and dressing. They also assist in monitoring patients and help update nurses and doctors about a patient’s condition and their intake of food and fluids. CNAs must be supervised by an RN, as this is an entry-level role.

PA – Physician Assistant

A physician assistant is a highly trained medical professional. Although they are not doctors, they help patients manage chronic conditions, provide preventative care, and set up referrals. A PA can help patients access healthcare more quickly by taking care of certain care needs without having to wait for a doctor. PAs hold a master’s degree and must gain at least 2,000 hours of clinical experience during their degree program.

PT – Physical Therapist

After an injury, surgery, or certain illnesses, people often lose strength and mobility in the affected areas of the body. A physical therapist helps people recover and regain their physical abilities. Generally, a PT will help the patient perform exercises in an office setting or during a home visit, and also give patients exercises to do at home in between appointments.

PsyD – Doctor of Psychology

A doctor of psychology is often known as a psychiatrist. They provide counseling and medication for people who are affected by mental illnesses. A psychiatrist can also help people struggling with substance use problems. Although there are different levels of education and expertise among mental health professionals, psychiatrists have the most training and are able to prescribe drugs for mental illness.

Don’t Know an Abbreviation? Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!

These are just a few of the many medical job abbreviations you might come across. It’s important to understand who your healthcare team is, so if you meet someone and you’re not sure what their medical abbreviation means, don’t be afraid to ask! Most healthcare providers are happy to provide more information, especially if it helps you feel better about a procedure or treatment you need.