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These days many families see lots of doctors to meet the family's medical needs.  Some of the different health care professionals you and your family might visit include:

Primary Care

Primary care refers to the type of care you get when you first get sick. Some examples of primary care are:

  • Family medicine doctor
  • Internist
  • Physician's assistant

Family medicine doctor. Your family medicine doctor is someone who can treat the whole family, including kids.  

This person will:

  • Diagnose you
  • Coordinate your care
  • Help you avoid getting sick in the first place

If you have a condition outside of your family medicine doctor's scope of practice, he or she will send you to a specialist.

Internist. An internist is a doctor who prevents and treats disease in adults. Internists are also called "doctors of internal medicine."

Some internists focus on a specialty. For example:

  • Cardiologists treat the heart.
  • Endocrinologists deal with hormonal diseases, such as diabetes.
  • Rheumatologists treat joint, muscle, and bone diseases, such as arthritis.

But even though internists may have an area they specialize in, they often serve as "primary care" doctors for adults.

Physician's assistant. A physician's assistant, sometimes called a PA, is a medical professional who works with a doctor. PAs graduate from special educational programs. They can perform a variety of medical tasks, including:

  • Diagnose and treat illnesses
  • Order and interpret lab tests
  • Prescribe medicine

Today, many families see a physician's assistant for routine medical care. Sometimes PAs work with specialists, so you might see them as part of a visit to a specialist.


A pediatrician is a doctor who treats children from birth until they reach age 21.

Your child can visit a pediatrician for:

  • General checkups
  • Vaccinations
  • Illness

Most likely you'll take your child to a general pediatrician. Kids might need to see a pediatrician who specializes in one area of care, such as:

  • Cardiology
  • Infectious diseases
  • Pulmonology (lung problems)


On the other end of the age spectrum is the geriatrician. This doctor treats people 65 and older.

A geriatrician has studied internal or family medicine. He or she has done extra training in the medical issues that affect seniors. These issues can include:

  • Memory loss
  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis