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5 types of primary care doctors: which is right for you?

Doctor names can be confusing. What’s behind those puzzling labels?

By Beth Averbeck, MD
March 9, 2018

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Primary care. Family medicine. Internal medicine. What does it all even mean? And why can’t a doctor just be a doctor?

There are more than 100 different specializations for doctors. But worry no more. I’m going to explain the difference between a few easy-to-confuse doctor specialties. I’ll also share how you can find your own doctor from providers I work with in Minnesota and Wisconsin. My colleagues at HealthPartners and Park Nicollet are excellent!

What kind of primary care doctor do I need?

You have a few options. Here are the different types of primary care doctor you can choose from:

Family medicine doctors

Family medicine doctors can care for your whole family. They see moms, dads, babies, children and adults of all ages. Your family medicine doctor is the whole family’s go-to. So no matter who in your family is sick, you have one person to call. They know your family history.


Pediatricians, on the other hand, specialize in children’s health from birth to age 18. Many pediatricians will still see patients after their eighteenth birthday. So, some patients stick with their pediatrician until their early 20s.

Internal medicine doctors

Internal medicine doctors care for adults. They prevent, treat and diagnose diseases – just like other doctors. This kind of doctor is also called an internist.

Internal medicine-pediatrics doctors

Internal medicine-pediatrics doctors are two types of doctors in one. They’re board-certified in both internal medicine and pediatrics. These doctors care for kids and adults, and can help prevent, treat and diagnose diseases. They’re also called med-peds doctors (pronounced: MED-peeds).


OB-GYN doctors are different. While other doctors focus on the whole body, these doctors specialize in women’s reproductive health. OB-GYN doctors are experts in obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN). That means care during pregnancy and birth, plus things like birth control and menopause. Your OB-GYN doctor gives many preventive care screenings. (Think blood pressure or a cholesterol check.) But you’ll need to see a primary care doctor for whole-body issues, and general health and well-being. (Think mental health, respiratory and skin conditions.)

The most important thing is to choose one of these doctors and stick with him or her

Your primary care doctor could be a family medicine doctor, pediatrician, internist or another kind. You get to choose! The most important thing is that you pick one primary care doctor. They are your first point of contact and can help with most preventive care. This doctor will refer you to specialists for additional care. (Think mammograms and colonoscopies.) Be sure to visit your doctor regularly to stay healthy.

Preventive care appointments with your primary doctor are frequently free

Care that keeps you healthy and identifies problems early is called preventive care. Preventive care visits are often free with health insurance – even with high-deductible plans! Visits include things like:

  • A physical exam
  • Blood pressure check
  • Height, weight and BMI
  • Screening for common health problems
  • Immunizations
  • Healthy lifestyle coaching

You just need to visit a doctor covered by your insurance.

Find a doctor

HealthPartners clinics

Park Nicollet clinics

Did you know Park Nicollet also offers individual help? Talk to our clinician finder team to find a physician who fits your profile. Call 952-993-2460.

About Beth Averbeck, MD

Dr. Beth Averbeck is Senior Medical Director for Primary Care at HealthPartners. In this role, she supports care teams to provide primary care at HealthPartners clinics. She also sees patients. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with family and pets, and playing oboe in community bands.

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