Share your location for a better experience

Please enter your city or town so we can help you find the right care at the right place.

Click the X to continue without setting your location

Get care nowSign in

Health news and blog

    Primary care

    Healthcare vocabulary 101

    Learn the difference between primary care, family medicine, and the providers in-between

    Healthcare Vocabulary 101

    Do you know the difference between primary care and family medicine? How about what makes a Nurse Practitioner different from a Physician’s Assistant?

    In the world of healthcare, understanding the different types of providers can feel like deciphering a puzzle. So we're here to break it down in simple terms, so you can feel confident in choosing the right care.

    Primary Care vs Family Medicine

    Primary care is your healthcare headquarters. It's where you establish a relationship with a healthcare provider who becomes your go-to for all things health-related. You might go for things such as routine check-ups, managing chronic conditions, and getting treatment for minor illnesses or injuries. Typically, primary care includes internal medicine specialties and adult treatment.

    Family medicine, like primary care, is a first line of defense. You might go to them for routine check-ups, immunizations, treatments for sports injuries, and more. They’re able to care for patients of all ages, from newborns to seniors, so they offer internal medicine specialties along with newborn to senior treatment.

    Some other specialties unique to primary care include:

    • Pediatricians - Pediatricians are experts in caring for babies, children, and adolescents. They specialize in the unique needs of young patients, from well-child visits to vaccinations and everything in between.
    • Internists - Sometimes referred to as "doctors for adults," internists are trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of medical conditions in patients of all ages. From managing chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension to addressing acute illnesses like infections or injuries, internists provide comprehensive adult care.

    Under the primary care window, there’s a whole team of people keeping you and yours healthy:

    MD (Doctor of Medicine)

    These healthcare providers have completed medical school and a 3-7 year residency, and are licensed to diagnose and treat medical conditions. They can perform physical exams, prescribe medication, order tests, and perform procedures.

    DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine)

    Similar to MDs, DOs also complete medical school and residencies but have additional training in osteopathic medicine. They focus on a holistic approach to healthcare, considering the whole person—mind, body, and spirit.

    Physician Assistant (PA)

    PAs are healthcare professionals who work under the supervision of a physician, and have a more general medical education. To become a PA, they had to complete a master’s degree from an accredited program and pass a certifying exam. They can conduct exams, diagnose illnesses, and prescribe medication. PAs often work closely with primary care providers to deliver care

    Nurse Practitioner (NP)

     NPs have undergone advanced clinical training and certification exams beyond the initial registered nurse (RN) education. Like PAs, they can diagnose and treat medical conditions, prescribe medication, and provide patient education. Unlike PAs, NPs may specialize in areas like women’s health, pediatrics, or other specialties.

    Specialized providers in primary care offer high-quality care to meet specific needs. Whether you're managing chronic conditions, seeking reproductive healthcare, or need help with your child’s fever, primary care has you covered. There's always a provider out there ready to help you live your healthiest life.

    Primary Care and Mental Health

    Find care now

    Intermountain Health has trusted medical experts who provide high-quality, affordable, and personalized care — right in your community.

    Schedule an appointment


    Healthcare vocabulary 101