What is a Clinician?

A clinician is anyone who has patient healthcare responsibilities

Doctor and nurse talking in hospital hallway
Caiaimage/Getty Images

A clinician is anyone who has patient healthcare responsibilities. It usually means a physician, but there are several other healthcare professionals who can also be considered clinicians, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

The word is used to recognize that patients encounter many types of healthcare providers who are not physicians, but are still able to deliver some form of medical care.

For example, many chronic hepatitis patients may actually see nurse practitioners during routine follow-up visits instead of physicians.

Types of Clinicians

  • Physicians who earn the doctor of medicine degree (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree can be licensed to practice medicine and surgery by a state medical board. These doctors complete four years of training in medical school and then complete an additional training program of at least three years duration (called a residency program) in preparation for a specialty. Each specialty program requires different durations of study. For example, most of the primary care specialties, such as family medicine or internal medicine, are three or four years in length. Surgical specialties require at least five years of training. 
  • Nurses are a crucial part of the healthcare system and are frequently described as being the eyes and arms of physicians. They implement treatment plans and alert the doctor of any problems. With this said, the profession is incredibly diverse and people with nursing degrees are found in many different settings, not just clinical. Nurses complete several levels of training, but the standard is earning a four-year bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN) followed by extensive testing and licensing as a RN. Nurses at this level of training would neither diagnose illnesses nor prescribe medications, but would have significant patient care experience.
  • Nurse practitioners are nurses who receive advance clinical training (NP) and are licensed to diagnose some illnesses and prescribe some medication. These clinicians are trained for primary care, and depending on their practice, could have significant experience diagnosing and treating various forms of hepatitis.
    • Physician Assistants (also called PAs) are trained to work under the supervision of a licensed physician. With this arrangement, PAs are able to handle the less-complicated cases which free up the physicians to handle the more complicated cases. In a way, PAs are physician extenders, giving the physician the ability to see more patients in a given time.​
    • Alternative medicine, in its many forms, is becoming more prominent but it's still not embraced by everyone. Many of the therapies that are considered alternative often lack convincing evidence of their usefulness. Examples of clinicians who practice in this area are chiropractic (DC) and naturopathic (ND) physicians, and physicians trained in traditional Asian medicine (OMD). While these clinicians may be well-trained and provide a helpful treatment, it is good to remember that if an alternative therapy works and has scientific supports, it will eventually be incorporated into conventional medicine.

    Continue Reading