Understanding the types of primary care

Although all the physicians within the Edward-Elmhurst Health system strive to provide the highest quality of care, not every physician is alike. There are many different types of healthcare professionals who specialize in different types of primary care. Read on and discover which type of PCP may be best for you or your family.

Family medicine

Family medicine physicians see people of all ages, from infants to seniors. They are board-certified and have specific knowledge of the body at any life stage.

Internal medicine

Internal medicine physicians, also called internists, typically treat adult patients ages 16 and up. They are board certified and have specific knowledge of the internal organs and the development of adults.


A pediatrician is a physician who treats newborns, children and teens. They are board certified and focus on the healthy development of children, and will follow your child’s care up until they switch to either a family or internal medicine physician.


Many PCPs have clinics in medical office buildings closer to your home. However, if you ever have to go to the hospital for an extended period of time, you may be seen by a hospitalist. Hospitalists are physicians who specialize in the care of patients in the hospital. Most hospitalists are board-certified internal medicine physicians who may act as your PCP during your hospital stay.

MD vs. DO

MD stands for medical doctor, a doctor who trained at a medical school. DO stands for doctor of osteopathic medicine, a doctor who trained at a college of osteopathic medicine. They represent two branches of medicine that started out completely separate but have grown more alike over years. Both types of physicians spend the same number of years in training, must pass a licensing exam, and are licensed to provide various types of medical care.

Physician assistants

Physician assistants (PAs) are healthcare professionals with many of the same responsibilities as doctors, though they work under a physician's supervision. A PA is certified and licensed to diagnose a patient and prescribe treatment.

Advanced practice nurses

Advanced practice nurses (APNs) are registered nurses who are board certified, received special licensing, and completed a master’s or doctorate degree in nursing. APNs work at the forefront of patient care and can diagnose certain problems, prescribe treatment, and coordinate care for patients.