Your Quick Pocket Guide To Medical Titles

Admit it.  Unless you've grown up in a medical environment (or worked in one for several years) medical titles can sometimes be a bit daunting for most of us.  Gone are the days when there is simply a doctor and a nurse.  We now have doctors who have names according to their area of expertise, different assistant titles that make you wonder how much advice you should really take from that professional, and a myriad of titles that were not even in existence 25 years ago.  Think about this from your loved one's perspective, especially if they are in their late seventies or early eighties.  It has got to be difficult for them to try to navigate all of these professional titles alone when there is a chance that they've not even spent much time with a standard medical doctor.  This list will by no means be comprehensive, but should give you a quick guide to the more common titles used by medical personnel & make it easier for your loved one to navigate the system, understand who is giving which advice & hopefully make sound decisions for their health.

Medical Doctor (MD) - This is a standard doctor with a general practice.  They are qualified to make certain diagnoses & also to give referrals to specialists that can guide you in a more specific way.  Think of this doctor as your first step in the process of finding out what is wrong with you.  They can treat common ailments, but if you have a more complicated medical history, you should also be seeking the advice of a specialist in your particular problem.

Physician's Assistant (PA) – This is a medical professional that practices medicine in the same way that a medical doctor would, except that they make their diagnoses & recommendations with the collaboration of a team of physicians.  They are still qualified to make diagnoses & refer patients to specialists.

Nurse Practitioner – This is a registered nurse that has the authority to treat certain ailments and complaints apart from a medical doctor. If visiting a nurse practitioner, you would need to know whether or not your ailment fits under the scope of what that practitioner is qualified to treat.

Registered Nurse – A registered nurse is qualified to help a medical doctor with a number of things, including administering medications, keeping account of medical records & providing excellent patient care.

Nurse's Assistant – This person is usually involved in the daily tasks that are required in patient care, such as feeding, changing dressings, & various other help as needed.

Oncologist – A doctor that treats people who suffer from cancer.

Cardiologist – A doctor that treats patients with heart issues.

Endocrinologist – A doctor that treats patients with glandular or hormonal problems (think thyroid/diabetes/hormone issues/bone health)

Geriatric Medical Specialists – A doctor that specializes in treating the elderly, & is qualified to treat them out-of-clinic, such as in their home, at an assisted living facility or in an elderly care home.

Gastroenterologist- A doctor that treats stomach, intestinal & colon issues. 

These are some of the most common medical titles you will run into in general care situations. This list is by no means comprehensive.  As with all things medical, please assure your loved one that it is perfectly acceptable & even encouraged to ask questions.  If they are unsure about someone's title & what they are about to do, help them to advocate for themselves and ASK!  A nurse or nurse's assistant should be able to let you know what a “hematologist” is, what an “anesthesiologist” does & make you feel far more comfortable during your trip to the doctor or hospital.  Your loved one should never feel embarrassed about asking questions regarding their health or the people who are treating them!   The best quality of care will come when the patient is able to ask the right people the questions that they have.  If they better understand the functions of each of the people treating them, they'll understand why the oncologist is not willing to give advice on their heart condition, etc.  It should make their trip to the doctor much more productive & assure that the care they receive is, indeed, the best that can be afforded to them!