Difference Between Clinician & Physician

Physicians and clinicians are responsible for providing varying degrees of healthcare in an array of specialties to patients. Since physicians are clinicians, the terms are typically used interchangeably. Read on for these career responsibilities.

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Comparing Clinicians to Physicians

Due to their colloquial interchangeability and overlap in responsibilities, the roles of clinicians and physicians are often blurred and confusing. Simply put, clinicians are all healthcare providers who deal directly with patients, while physicians are clinicians who focus in a particular specialty involving non-surgical treatment. For the sake of comparison, below is a chart that compares physicians to a common clinician position, registered nurses, but keep in mind that any person that interacts with patients to provide healthcare is considered a clinician.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Physician Doctoral degree $208,000 (for all physicians and surgeons) 14% (for all physicians and surgeons)
Registered Nurse Bachelor's degree $68,450 16%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Clinicians vs. Physicians

Clinician is a general term that encompasses every medical position that involves patients; therefore, the responsibilities for clinicians vary depending on the job title. Clinicians can be medical assistants, doctors, counselors, psychiatrists, and so on. Therefore in a general sense, clinicians' responsibilities are diagnosing illnesses and administering treatment to patients through either medicine or procedures. Physicians fulfill these responsibilities by providing medical care to patients and giving medical advice on what habits the patient must change to improve their health, as well as prescribing medicines to reduce symptoms of illnesses or prevent them from occurring.


Clinicians are responsible for providing healthcare, treatment, and support to patients with varying ailments or diseases, as well as support to prevent diseases. One type of clinician is a registered nurse, whose duties are focused on the initial diagnostic procedure as well as the observation and assistance of patients. Another type of clinician is a mental health clinician or counselor, who is responsible for providing therapy to patients who have mental illness. They usually diagnose the mental illness as well as its severity within the patient, and create customized treatment plans based on each individual client's needs. Surgeons are clinicians with more advanced responsibilities, such as treating injuries with surgical procedures.

The general responsibilities of clinicians include the following:

  • Document medical history of patients
  • Use and maintain medical equipment
  • Give diagnostic tests
  • Observe vitals
  • Provide a prognosis based on the treatment progress


Physicians perform non-surgical diagnostic procedures and treatments in patients. General physicians are usually primary care doctors who treat varying illnesses and give checkups on a somewhat regular basis. Psychiatrists are physicians that focus on mental health and provide psychotherapy and medication to their patients. Other physician specialties include dermatology, family medicine, internal medicine and emergency medicine. Regardless of specialty, physicians are consulted to regularly observe and track the status of a patient's health.

Other general responsibilities include the following:

  • Prescribe medication to treat or cure illnesses
  • Create treatment plans
  • Update patients' medical information on charts
  • Give referrals when a treatment beyond their specialty is needed

Related Careers

If you would want to provide healthcare, but would rather focus on treatments that don't involve either surgery or medication, a career as a chiropractor may suit your needs. Similarly, as an optometrist you could provide care, but your focus will be on correcting vision issues, and maintaining vision health.

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