Members of your Medical Team

In the medical world there are all kinds of doctors, nurses, and other providers you may encounter throughout your treatments and surgeries. What do all those titles and/or letters mean behind their names?

  • Attending or Staff Physician – An attending physician is a physician that has completed residency and practices medicine in a clinic or hospital, often focusing on the specialty learned during residency. An attending physician can also supervise residents and medical students. Legally, attending physicians have final responsibility for patient care, even when many of the minute-to-minute decisions are being made by subordinates (nurse practitioners, physician assistants, resident physicians, and medical students).
  • Fellow Physician – Although their training is more advanced than that of residents, fellows usually continue to treat patients under the supervision of an attending physician – that is, one who has already completed a fellowship in the relevant subspecialty and is permitted to practice without direct supervision by other physicians. Fellows are receiving additional training in their chosen specialty beyond their residency.
  • Resident Physician – Residency is a stage of postgraduate medical training and leads to eligibility for board certification in a primary care or referral specialty. It is filled by a resident physician who has received a medical degree (M.D. or D.O.) and is composed almost entirely of the care of hospitalized or clinic patients, mostly with direct supervision by more senior physicians.
  • Registered Nurse (R.N.) – a health care professional responsible for implementing the practice of nursing through the use of the nursing process (in concert with other health care professionals).
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (L.P.N.) – can perform simple as well as complex medical procedures, but must operate under the supervision of either a professional registered nurse (RN) or a physician.
  • Health Care Assistant or Nursing Assistant (H.C.A. or N.A.) – assist residents or patients with activities of daily living and provide bedside care—including basic nursing procedures—all under the supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurse
  • Medical Student – A person studying to become a medical doctor. They often observe physicians as part of their medical training. They are not licensed.

Other health care providers you may encounter:

  • Physical Therapist (PT) – A health care professional who diagnoses and treats people of all ages who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. The minimum educational requirement is a master’s degree, yet most educational programs now offer the doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree. PTs are licensed by their state.
  • Occupational Therapist (OT) – A health care professional who helps people improve their ability to perform tasks in their daily living and working environments. They work with individuals who have conditions that are mentally, physically, developmentally, or emotionally disabling. They also help them to develop, recover, or maintain daily living and work skills. Currently, a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy is the minimum requirement for entry into the field.
  • Audiologist – The health care professional specializing in: testing, monitoring, and diagnosing disorders of the auditory and vestibular system portions of the ear; an audiologist diagnoses and treats hearing and (balance) problems. Audiologists have received an Au.D. (Doctorate in Audiology), or a Master’s or Doctoral degree from an accredited university graduate or professional program in audiology. All states require licensure, and audiologists may also carry national board certification.
  • Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) – A health care professional who is involved with the prevention, diagnosis, habilitation, and rehabilitation of communication, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive disorders; elective modification of communication behaviors; and enhancement of communication. Minimum educational requirement is a master’s degree. SLPs are licensed by their state.