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Who Are All These People In White Lab Coats?

In a modern hospital, white lab coats are no longer just for physicians and surgeons. Here's a breakdown on who might be walking into your hospital room.

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Doctor of Medicine


The most widely-recognized type of person in a white lab coat, M.D.s could be your "attending" who makes decisions about your overall health or a "consultant" who offers a specialized view of one aspect of your health.

Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine


With equal training and practice rights as M.D.s plus preventative care and holistic education, your physician or surgeon could be a D.O. "Attendings" or "consultants," Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine guide patient care.

Physician Assistant


Physician assistants (P.A.s) can play just about any role as an M.D. or D.O., but they are always under the supervision and direction of a doctor. Compared to a doctor, it takes less schooling to become a physician assistant, and a P.A.'s scope of practice is limited by how much additional training they pursue.

Nurse Practitioner


Also known as an advanced practice registered nurse (A.P.R.N.), a nurse practitioner (N.P.) pursued extra education after general nursing training and has practice rights limited by this education. In some states and contexts (typically primary care), N.P.s can practice independently of physicians.



Pharmacists advise patients and healthcare providers on the selection, dosages, interactions, and side effects of medications and act as a learned intermediary between a prescriber and a patient.



Unlicensed, incompletely-trained students of all kinds could walk into your hospital room in a white lab coat. Usually, a student's white coat is short, about waist-length with a patch from his or her school.

It takes a team.


When you are sick in the hospital, it takes a whole lot of people to get you better. And these days, a lot of these people wear a white lab coat. Make sure you learn who is who and always remember that the leader of your healthcare team is YOU!