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What is a Clinician?

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Are Physicians and Dietitians Clinicians?

Ouch. You wake in the night with a scratchy, sore throat. The next morning, your daughter complains of the same symptoms. You go to the doctor’s office, and a nurse takes your temperature and blood pressure. The doctor comes in and examines your throat, takes a throat culture (ick!) and prescribes antibiotics. At the pharmacy, you talk to the pharmacist about adding flavor to your daughter’s medicine. You have just seen three clinicians. On the other hand, if you go to a physician who is conducting research on strep throat at a major university and tell him you have a sore throat, both he and his lab technician will be perplexed. “Why are you here?” he’d ask, as his lab technician peeked out from his microscope. “I don’t treat patients. Do you have something to add to my research?”

Job Descriptions

Clinicians are health care professionals at many levels who work directly with patients, delivering patient care or services. Your family practice physician, the nurse who administers your flu shot, and the psychologist you talk with when your life spirals out of control—are all considered clinicians. They perform different tasks depending on their job titles, but all of them provide direct patient care.

Other health care professionals, although they may have some of the same job titles, have job descriptions that do not include working directly with patients. The medical assistant who spends her time behind the scenes, updating patient charts and talking by phone with insurance companies, is not a clinician. The nurse manager who supervises staff nurses on the cardiology floor of the hospital is not a clinician unless she also takes care of patients. The staff nurses she supervises, however, are clinicians.

Dietitians who have a private practice, advising people on proper diet, are clinicians. But a dietitian who works in a government office revising that food pyramid again and again would never be called a clinician.

Education Requirements

Most clinicians have completed the education appropriate to their job titles and have the degrees or certificates to prove it. An exception is the medical assistant who got her training on-the-job and doesn’t have a degree or certificate. She’s still a clinician, though, if she works with patients. The education and degrees or certificates necessary to work in this role vary widely, along with salaries, such as:

  • Medical assistant: 1‒2 years, certificate or associate’s degree, $31,540
  • Nurse: Licensed practical nurse (LPN), non-degree award, $44,090
  • Nurse: Registered nurse (RN), two-year associate’s degree, up to $68,4501
  • Nurse: RN/BSN, 4-year college bachelor’s degree, median $68,4501
  • Physicians: 4-year BS, 4 yrs. med school, 3‒7 yrs. specialty, $208,000+
  • Dietitians: 4-year bachelor’s degree, $58,920

All these are median salaries, which means they are the midpoint of a list of salaries, with half earning more and half earning less.

1The median salaries for RNs and BSNs are the same because nurses are so much in demand that even an RN with a two-year degree earns a high starting salary. BSNs (who are still considered RNs and usually go by the designation RN/BSN), with four-year degrees, earn higher starting salaries that increase significantly with experience. This pushes up the median salary for all RNs.

About the Industry

Clinicians work in a variety of health care settings, including doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes or anywhere patients go for medical care.

Years of Experience

Experience is important for clinicians since they work directly with patients. Clinicians can be and often are hired without experience, however, because they will be supervised initially by someone with experience before they work independently with patients.

As you gain more experience in your career, you may opt to continue your education to move to the next step of patient care, where you’ll have more responsibility and earn a larger salary. Moving from RN to BSN is a common step, and many colleges have programs designed specifically to accomplish this.

Job Growth Trend

As baby boomers continue to age, the health problems that come with aging will create the need for more health care workers. Some sample growth trends expected between 2016 and 2026 are:

  • Medical assistants: 29 percent
  • Physicians: 13 percent
  • Registered nurses: 15 percent
  • Dietitians: 15 percent

Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area who has written about careers and education for,, and more. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards for her writing.

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