Healthcare is a complex field, encompassing everything involved in keeping a being alive. This includes both veterinarian care of animals and human biology, each of which is then broken down into subsets of anatomy, physiology, psychology, and more.
With this understanding in mind, it’s easy to see how, even if we focus solely on humans, some medical specialties intersect. This results in confusion for those who aren’t deeply involved in medicine, like the average patient or an early-year med student.
Yet, understanding the most commonly confused medical specialties can help patients save money and streamline their healthcare by skipping unnecessary specialists and making a medical student’s education more efficient by reducing coursework and, possibly, years of student loans.
Here, we’ll break down three of the most frequently confused medical specialties to grant you some additional healthcare knowledge.
1. CRNA and Anesthesiologist
One of the most lucrative careers in healthcare is that of the anesthesiologist. It’s also one of the lengthiest educations in the industry, requiring the upcoming doctor to go to school and train for 12-15 years. In contrast, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) needs 7-10 years. This training discrepancy shows up in the compensation rate, as explained in this article by Physician Thrive.
The key differences between the two positions are the ability to practice independently (a CRNA typically works under the supervision of an anesthesiologist, but 30 states permit a CRNA to practice alone) and the type of case and procedures the practitioner can accept. Anesthesiologists have more training and are permitted to accept complex cases in various subspecialties.
If your goal is to receive or provide basic anesthesia for an uncomplicated treatment, a CRNA is sufficient. But if you require more challenging, complex care, an anesthesiologist is necessary.
2. Nutritionist and Dietitian
Wellness in the form of nutrition is at the root of nearly every disease, yet many people don’t understand the importance of eating well. That’s where nutritionists and dieticians are vital to every healthcare field.
Both professions offer nutritional guidance tailored to meet a person’s health goals. However, a dietician has credentials in the science that links diet and health together, requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher and a national license. They can own private practices or work in hospitals and clinics and provide support to help those with diseases manage their health through proper diet.
A nutritionist refers to someone who has similar knowledge to the dietician but doesn’t have the degree and licensing. This person can still offer advice on how to eat better to reach your health goals but can’t prescribe formal diet plans or work at a hospital or clinic.
If your nutritional concern is essential to your health, look for a dietician. If your needs are more generalized for preventative care and wellness, a nutritionist may be helpful. These key differences can help you decide which field you’d like to enter as a med student, too.
3. Ophthalmologist and Optometrist
When you need to see an eye doctor or wish to become one, there’s a significant difference between an opthalmologist and an optometrist. While both have extensive knowledge of the eye and all its related pieces, only an ophthalmologist can perform surgery.
Ophthalmologists are doctors, and their education provides them with the training and knowledge necessary to recognize the signs of visual conditions and complete the correct surgical procedures. As such, the medical school for this position is significantly longer than that of an optometrist — an optometrist only needs four years of training after their bachelor’s degree, while an ophthalmologist needs eight or more.
An optometrist is the first line of defense against vision issues. They’re the go-to for screenings, glasses and contacts prescriptions, and vision concerns. They will refer the patient to an ophthalmologist if they think the condition is complicated. It’s possible to head straight to an ophthalmologist, but it isn’t always necessary, and it will likely be more expensive.
As a patient, consider your needs and how severe your vision issues are likely to become. Check with your insurance before making an appointment. Some companies require a referral from an optometrist, or they won’t pay for your ophthalmologist visits.
Medicine frequently overlaps, with no set boundaries between specialties. Healthcare providers need to have a solid understanding of how biology, anatomy, physiology, and psychology play a role in a person’s overall wellness.
The provider’s understanding of a particular field of medicine is primarily based on their education and license, but some, like these three specialties, intersect more than others. Armed with the knowledge to differentiate between them, you can make an informed decision as to the field you’d like to enter or the provider you want treating your case.