Healthcare can seem like a complex system of health providers, insurers and hospitals speaking in a foreign language. At any time during your care if you do not understand something, please let your provider know. As educators, we enjoy sharing our knowledge.

To help you when your provider can’t be there, we’ve curated this short list of terms and their definitions to help you better understand your healthcare at MSU HealthTeam.

There are many types of providers you may see when you access care at MSU HealthTeam. Because the human body is a complex system, health care uses various roles working together to provide care.

Here are a few of the types of providers you may encounter.

Family Physician

Family physicians provide comprehensive, patient-centered care. After their training is completed, these physicians can provide the full spectrum of care to their patients, including family-centered prenatal and delivery care, gynecologic services, adult and child preventive services, managing acute and chronic illnesses, and likelihood of further illness. In other words, family physicians can provide continuity of care and preventive services to patients of all ages, both sexes, inclusive of medical, surgical, obstetric, pediatric, and geriatric issues addressing the needs of the whole person – biologic, psychological, social and spiritual concerns. In providing continuity of care, the family physician may provide the service directly or coordinate and co-manage the care with another appropriate specialist, with another partner in the group, a counselor, or another community resource.

Board eligible

Providers who have completed the medical school and residency training in their respective specialty or subspecialty and can take the certification examination by an independent licensing board. All of these physicians have passed the series of licensing examinations before they can practice in the State of Michigan.

Board certified

Board certified providers have all the training of a board eligible provider, but have also passed a certification examination and continually complete a series of evaluations to maintain their certification through an independent licensing board.

Nurse Practitioners

Nurse Practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses with a graduate degree in nursing practice. Following the completion of a 4-year bachelor’s degree in nursing, advanced practice nurses complete an additional three years of nurse practitioner focused education and expanded clinical training.

Nurse practitioners are masters’ prepared and graduate educated. This advanced practice education focuses on diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of health problems; health promotion; disease prevention, health education and counseling. Nurse Practitioners are licensed as an RN and NP by the State of Michigan and board certified by passing a national certification examination, which requires continuing education to maintain certification. 

Nurse Practitioners provide a full range of primary care services across a person’s lifespan. They diagnose, treat and manage both acute and chronic health conditions. They may order, perform or interpret diagnostic studies. They may also prescribe medications and other treatments. While managing the overall care of patients Nurse Practitioners may spend time counseling, doing risk assessments, and helping individuals learn how their actions and behaviors affect their own health and well-being.


Physiatrists, pronounced, (fizz ee at’ trist) or a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physician are physicians who treat a wide range of problems from sore shoulders to spinal cord injuries. The focus of the specialty is on restoring function to people. Physiatrists treat acute and chronic pain and musculoskeletal disorders. Physiatrists may treat a person who hurt themselves lifting at work, a soccer player who sprained an ankle and needs rehabilitation to play again, or a factory worker who has carpel tunnel syndrome from repetitive work. Physiatrists’ patients include people with arthritis, tendonitis, all types of back pain, sports and work related injuries.

Physiatrists treat both complicated and uncomplicated disorders of the musculoskeletal system that result in functional limitations. They treat babies with birth defects, people who have been in work or car accidents resulting in serious injury and even elderly people with a broken hip.

Physiatrist also treat people with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, strokes, amputations, cancer, and multiple sclerosis; all requiring a long rehabilitation process.

The goal of medical rehabilitation is to alleviate or minimize disability and handicapping conditions to improve the quality of life and self-esteem, transforming dependence to independence with individualized goal oriented treatment.