Clinicians are medical professionals who work directly with patients or who are qualified in the clinical practice of medicine, as opposed to those who perform research or work in a laboratory. By that definition, many psychologists are actually clinicians. However, some psychologists who work directly with patients are educated at the doctorate level, in contrast to other clinicians, such as physician assistants and advanced practice nurses, who are more likely to have master’s degrees.
The Educational Component
No matter what you choose, plan to hit the books for several years. Physician assistants, or PAs, typically have a master’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Certified nurse midwives and nurse practitioners -- CNMs and NPs -- are required to have a master’s degree and, in many states, must also be certified. All three of these disciplines require a license in all states. Psychologists usually have either a master’s degree or a doctorate. Clinical psychologists, who treat patients with mental illness, must have a doctorate, according to the BLS, and counseling and research psychologists usually also need a doctorate. School and industrial-organizational psychologists typically have a master’s degree. Licensing requirements for psychologists vary by state and specialty.
If you like helping people, you might want to go the clinician route. PAs and NPs may be generalists or may specialize in areas such as pediatrics, gerontology, orthopedics or oncology. NPs may also specialize in gynecology, which is an area in which they overlap with CNMs, but CNMs manage pregnancy, deliver babies and also provide newborn care. CNMs do not, however, perform cesarean sections. Psychologists’ duties vary by specialty. School psychologists counsel students and school officials; clinical psychologists provide mental and behavioral health care; and industrial-organizational psychologists apply psychological principles to industries to improve problems such as morale or poor performance.
Off to Work You Go
Work settings vary among master’s-level clinicians and psychologists. PAs are most likely to work in physicians’ offices, according to the BLS, but almost 25 percent work in hospitals. Most NPs work in primary care, either independently or with a physician. However, 43 percent have hospital privileges, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, and 15 percent have long-term care privileges. CNMs may work in private practice -- with or without a physician partner -- in hospitals and birthing centers, according to MedlinePlus. The BLS notes that approximately 29 percent of psychologists worked in schools in 2010, while 20 percent worked in health care settings and 34 percent were self-employed.
A Difference in Perspective
One difference between PAs, CNMs and NPs is that PAs are trained in the medical model, which is focused on diagnosis and treatment of a specific medical problem, injury or disease, while nurses are trained in a more holistic fashion. Nurses, according to the AANP, are taught to see a whole person who has a problem such as a chronic disease, and this affects their approach to care. Psychologists study human mental processes and people’s reactions to their environments; clinical and counseling psychologists are those most likely to practice in a way similar to PAs, CNMs and NPs.
So many variables exist in these careers that your personal preferences and other issues such as your ability to pay for your education may be the deciding factors in your career decision. If gynecological care interests you, for example, you might choose to become a CNM. On the other hand, you could also become a PA or NP who specializes in that area. If mental health, rather than physical health, is your preference, you could become a psychologist or an NP who specializes in psychiatry and mental health.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.