Primary health care practitioners are the front line professionals who provide immediate medical assistance to people of all ages. Physicians and nurses are among the primary care professionals that often operate in local communities throughout the world. Primary health care training often involves a mixture of both on-the-job training and educational instruction. Most countries have strict laws in place that prevent people who lack primary health care training from providing medical services to the general public.
Physicians or general practitioners (GP)s are an integral part of the primary health care system. Generally, a GP must have a degree in medicine; many undergraduate programs last for at least four years. Additionally, in some countries after completing an undergraduate degree, students must attend medical school for a number of years before starting work. Prior to becoming a physician, medical school students usually have to spend several years working alongside established physicians either in hospitals or in local communities. The entire primary health care training process for a physician often takes over a decade to complete.
Nurses work alongside physicians in local communities, and in many areas nurses can perform some of the same functions as physicians such as treating minor ailments, prescribing some types of medication and attending to wounds. A Nurse who performs such tasks normally need to have completed a nursing degree. In other countries nurses attend non-degree level vocational courses at community colleges or enroll in teaching classes at hospitals or other medical facilities. Some people who failed to complete medicine school are able to work as nurses on the basis of their undergraduate medical degree.
Midwives are nurses who specialize in providing medical support to pregnant women before, during and after labor. In countries such as the United Kingdom, midwives rather than physicians regularly meet with pregnant patients and oversee the birth process unless surgery is necessary in which case a physician must be involved. Midwives like nurses must attend college or vocational training schools and they receive primary health care training that enables them to administer drugs and handle minor medical issues related to both women and new born infants.
Having completed college or vocational training classes, both doctors and nurses are normally required to pass either a written or practical examination. The exams are designed to ensure that applicants have received the necessary primary health care training before they become licensed or certified to work as full-time health care practitioners. Individuals who fail the examination may have to undergo further on-the-job training or re-enroll in classes.