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Published: March 26, 2018
Who is on your Health Care Team?


Contributing writer: Pam Burgoa, Individual Advocacy Specialist at The Independence Center

Happy senior patient with friendly female nurse

Navigating the medical world can be overwhelming, especially if you aren’t familiar with the roles of everyone on your healthcare team. We’ve created a cheat sheet to help you keep everyone’s titles and roles straight, from your MD or NP to your RN, or LPN. This also includes people you’ll get to know on your home health care team, like CNAs, PCAs, and HHAs.

Medical ProfessionalWhat They Do
Doctor of Medicine or M.D.MD’s practice allopathic or “Western Medicine”, the classical form of medicine, focused on the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine or D.O.D.O.’s are trained to have a more holistic approach to medicine and follow a medical philosophy called osteopathic medicine. DO’s are trained to consider a patient’s environment, nutrition, and body system as a whole when diagnosing and treating medical conditions.
Nurse Practitioner or NPNurse practitioners are trained in accordance with the nursing and patient-centered treatment model. They frequently practice autonomously without direct physician oversight even when under a collaborative agreement with an MD. In a growing number of states they are permitted to practice and prescribe completely independently without any kind of physician collaboration required.
Physician Assistant or PAPhysician assistants attend programs that are more in-line with the medical and disease-centered treatment model. Physician assistants practice routinely without any direct supervision from an MD.  They perform services within the scope of their training and legal authority that might otherwise be performed by a physician, which often includes prescribing medication.
Registered Nurse or RNRNs are licensed nurses that work under any of the previously mentioned roles. The range of work they do is large. RNs work hands-on with patients, in supervisory roles, and in-patient education. RNs are generally responsible for administering medications to patients in addition to creating a treatment plan in order to promote and restore a patient’s health.
Licensed Practical Nurse or LPN: LPNs are licensed nurses that work under the supervision of an RN or a physician. They are responsible for providing basic nursing care. LPNs can routinely carry out the jobs like taking vital signs, doing patient assessments, and administering certain treatments and prescribed medication usually in a skilled facility.  They can delegate certain tasks to CNA’s and Aide’s.
Certified Nursing Assistant or CNACNA’s are certified (by their designated state of practice; not licensed) professionals that focus more on the everyday basic needs of a patient and their ADL’s (bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, mobility, transferring). They can take vital signs and report anything unusual in their routine care to a nurse to assess.
Personal Care Aide (PCA) or Home Health Aide (HHA): These are unlicensed workers that have less training typically than a CNA and usually provide non-medical services such as companionship and homemaker services. Depending on agency hiring and the state they work, they may also perform basic self-care tasks for patients.

How to check on a specific health professional

From time to time, we all need to be able to check on our medical professionals’ credentials and their history. Every state has a database(s) that can be accessed to check on if a particular health professional’s status. In Colorado, utilizing DORA’s (Department of Regulatory Affairs) database, you can check if a health professional has an active license, inactive, suspensions, revocations, disciplinary actions, restrictions, criminal convictions, and malpractice insurance settlements. Visit

The Independence Center offers Home Health Care and CNA Training

The Independence Center offers In-Home Health Care to people with disabilities. Call us at 719-471-8181 to find out if you qualify.

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