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NP, PA or MD? All serve key roles in providing care

April 10, 2023 | Healthy You

One woman provider reviews chart as another provider walks with two patients in clinic hallway.

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants play a big part in making sure people get the care they need.

Having a good relationship with your primary care provider can make a big difference in your health.

Your provider could be a doctor (MD or DO), nurse practitioner (NP) or physician assistant (PA). NPs and PAs are known as advanced practice clinicians. Both types arose in the United States in 1965 when there weren’t enough doctors to provide for all who needed care.

Filling the gap

Their contribution is just as important today. Over the next 10 years the U.S. will need up to 124,000 more doctors to care for everyone, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“We are constantly impressed by our advanced practice clinicians,” said Robin Virgin, MD, chief medical officer for PeaceHealth Medical Group in Oregon. “They are dedicated to their patients and the health of the communities where they live and work.”

Training and experience

Both NPs and PAs spend years in training to earn degrees — often through master’s programs. They also spend many hours working with patients in a clinic.

NPs and PAs can focus on caring for adults, families or children. 

What advanced practice clinicians do

In primary care, advanced practice clinicians are qualified to offer the same level of care as doctors. They can provide services such as:

  • Physical exams.
  • Diagnosis and treatment of conditions and illnesses.
  • Patient education and preventive health counseling.
  • Screenings and tests, including requesting lab and imaging tests.
  • Prescribe medications.
  • Make referrals and collaborate with other health professionals for treatment, therapy or surgery.

“As a primary care doctor for almost 30 years, I can say that what matters most in primary care is building a relationship with a provider who knows you and can advocate for you,” said Dr. Virgin. “Your provider’s actual title doesn’t matter as much as the relationship.”

Focus on patients and communication

PeaceHealth carefully screens provider candidates to look for people who focus on patients and who are good team players with effective communication skills. This means your provider is both qualified to provide you care and meets the PeaceHealth standards for compassion regardless of whether they’re a doctor, a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant. 

“PeaceHealth is pleased, proud and grateful to have advanced practice clinicians as part of our team caring for you,” said Dr. Virgin. 

Robin W. Virgin MD

Family Medicine
Robin Virgin, MD, provides the full scope of family medicine from newborn through geriatrics. She also has in-depth experience providing diabetes care, preventive care and family care. Caring for multiple generations in a family is an exciting aspect of her practice as she gets to know how families meet the joys and challenges everyone faces in life. She appreciates the opportunity to partner with families during major transitional periods in their lives. Dr. Virgin enjoys reading, cooking, traveling and diving.