What Do All Those Letters Mean, Anyway?

Healthcare providers and researchers often have many letters following their names. These titles indicate, at least partly, their training, experience, and qualifications. The following list isn't exhaustive, but it explains what some of those abbreviations refer to:

AAHIVS -- American Academy of HIV Medicine (AAHIVM) HIV Specialist
An MD, DO, PA, or NP who has completed 30 hours of continuing medical education (CME) credit in two years, has seen 20 or more patients with HIV within two years, and has passed a qualifications exam on HIV care. Two thousand providers are registered by the AAHIVM as HIV specialists. When choosing a healthcare provider, be aware that many providers may have equivalent experience in HIV care, but aren't certified by the AAHIVM.

ACRN -- HIV/AIDS Certified Registered Nurse
A registered nurse who has completed 70 hours of CME credits, has at least two years of experience in HIV/AIDS care, and has passed a certification exam for HIV/AIDS care.

DO -- Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine
A Doctor of Osteopathy has the same rights and privileges as a Medical Doctor (MD). They can prescribe medications and practice medicine in all fifty states. The training that a DO receives is comparable and, in some cases, identical to that of an MD but may have more of a "whole person/whole body" approach. DOs tend to consider the psychosocial as well as the physical well-being of a person, as well as how individual symptoms of a certain part of the body may affect others. DOs also receive additional training on the musculoskeletal system and Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment.

FAAN -- Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing
A distinction given to nurses in recognition of their accomplishments in nursing. Many fellows have high levels of training (82% hold a doctorate in nursing), and most have leadership positions in academic, research, government, or community settings.

GI -- Gastroenterologist
An MD or DO who specializes in the care of the stomach, intestines, and liver.

MD -- Medical Doctor
A physician who holds a medical degree and is licensed to practice medicine and surgery as well as prescribe medications.

NP -- Nurse Practitioner
A registered nurse with advanced clinical and academic experience, often including a master's degree. A Nurse Practitioner's abilities vary depending upon each state's regulations. In many states, a Nurse Practitioner can prescribe medications.

  • ANP -- Nurse Practitioner (adult care)
  • FNP -- Nurse Practitioner (family care)
  • GNP -- Nurse Practitioner (geriatric care)
  • PNP -- Nurse Practitioner (pediatric care)

PA -- Physician Assistant
Clinicians who provide healthcare to individuals under the supervision of physicians (MDs or DOs). Their training is not as long as that of MDs and DOs (two years as opposed to four), but their responsibilities are quite similar. They routinely take medical histories, examine and treat patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and X-rays, make diagnoses, and prescribe medications. They also treat minor injuries by suturing, splinting, and casting. PAs also record progress notes, instruct and counsel patients, and order or carry out therapy. In rural and inner city areas, PAs may be the principal care providers when a physician is present only one or two days a week. They are able to practice in 47 states, all of which require PAs to pass a certification exam and are then designated as a PA-C (Certified Physician Assistant).

Ph.D. -- Doctor of Philosophy
A doctorate (advanced) degree in any subject matter (not necessarily philosophy or medicine).

RN -- Registered Nurse
A nurse who has completed a Bachelor of Nursing program.