The field of medicine is one of the most responsible fields as people entrust their lives to medical practitioners. While the medical field includes many people and professions, two professions usually stand out. These include medical doctors (MDs) and nurse practitioners (NPs). These career options come with their own set of challenges and responsibilities, but they work side by side in a medical facility. Their primary goal is to make a difference in patients’ lives by providing them quality healthcare. But having the same line of duty does not mean they do not have any differences.
Below, we have a brief comparison of nurse practitioners vs. doctors. Moreover, we have also discussed some of their key differences in detail.
Nurse Practitioners vs. Doctors: 5 Key Differences
What differentiates doctors from nurse practitioners is not only their medical degree. There are several other significant differences between the two medical professions, explained below:
1. Different Ways to Get a Degree
The primary difference between a nurse practitioner and a doctor is their educational background.
Typically, doctors go to traditional medical colleges to earn their medical degrees. They attend regular classes, get trained in several procedures, and spend a lot of time in clinical settings. In such tough schedules, rarely any medical student can hold down a job during their studies.
On the other hand, most nurses can work while studying for their degrees. Nowadays, it has become possible for nurses to get their master’s or doctorate degrees easily through online nursing courses. So, a nurse can continue to work at a local medical facility while enrolled in masters in nurse practitioner course online.
2. Educational Differences
Besides the ways of earning their degrees, both MDs and NPs acquire different medical education. For instance, to become a nurse practitioner, you have to get the following education:
- Complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
- Clear the NCLEX-RN Examination
- Get a graduate degree
- Become a Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP) – currently, there are more than 325,000 licensed NPs in the US.
On the other hand, to become a doctor, you must complete the following requirements:
- Complete a bachelor’s degree
- Pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
- Get a Doctor of Medicine Degree (MD)
- Clear the US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)
- Complete residency training
- Earn a state license
- Get board certification (not mandatory)
3. Specialization Differences
After completing their basic medical education, doctors and nurse practitioners go for specializations. They choose an area of their choice and expertise and specialize in it. However, both professions have specialization options of their own. For instance, NPs can specialize in family medicine and become family nurse practitioners (FNPs). On the other hand, doctors may specialize in more advanced and specific areas such as obstetrics and gynecology to become OB-GYNs.
Some common NP specialties include the following:
- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Nurse Anesthetist
- Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
- Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Some common MD specialties include the following:
- Family Medicine
- Internal Medicine
- Physical Medicine and Rehab
- Cardiovascular Surgery
4. Difference in Responsibilities
In a broad sense, doctors are scientists, while nurses are healers. Although both have the ultimate goal of helping patients, their responsibilities to achieve that goal differ. However, nurse practitioners enjoy almost the same responsibilities as medical physicians in some states. In the US, NPs have full practice authority in 22 states and Washington DC. It means nurse practitioners can examine patients, recommend diagnostic tests, create treatment plans, and prescribe medications. They do not require a physician’s supervision for that. Besides these 22 states, NPs have restricted or reduced practice. It means they need a physician’s oversight with their decisions regarding patient care.
5. Salary Differences
There is a stark difference in the salaries of nurse practitioners and medical doctors. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, the median base salary of a full-time nurse practitioner in 2020 was $110,000, while the average annual salary of a doctor was $208,000.
Moreover, the employment rate of nurse practitioners will grow 45% from 2019 to 2029. On the other hand, the number of job openings for physicians will only increase by 7% from 2018 to 2028.
Now that we know about these key differences between both professions, let’s see what each of them has to offer individually.
What do NPs do – In a Nutshell
As mentioned earlier, nurses are healers who work with patients directly, providing them with urgent, primary, and specialty care. Nurse practitioners work in several clinical settings, including emergency rooms, clinics, managed facilities, hospitals, patient homes, etc.
In some US states, an NP’s role is no less than a physician’s as they perform nearly the same duties. Moreover, in most of the US states, NPs do not require a physician’s oversight, and they can:
- Take and maintain a patient’s medical history
- Gather patient samples and data
- Prescribe lab and diagnostic tests
- Keep patients under observation
- Design treatment plans
- Perform minor medical procedures
- Manage staff members, including registered nurses
- Work closely with their healthcare team
What do MDs do – In a Nutshell
Doctors provide medical care to patients and sometimes indulge in direct patient care. Their primary focus is on studying patients’ medical history, running diagnostic tests, performing different procedures, and educating patients about their condition and long-term healthcare.
On the other hand, all nurses cannot perform advanced duties without a physician’s oversight. A standard medical doctor:
- Tracks and updates patient’s medical history with recent findings
- Orders different diagnostic tests for a patient
- Analyzes test results
- Diagnoses and treats diseases
- Creates and prescribes treatment plans
- Educates patients about their condition
- Refers patients to suitable specialists
- Stays up-to-date with recent medical studies and technologies
Nurse Practitioners and Doctors – Two Pillars of Medical Field
Working in medicine is an honorable pursuit, be it as a doctor, a nurse, or any other profession. These are all highly rewarding careers as nurse practitioners, and doctors change the lives of patients every day. While the monetary compensation that comes with these professions is lucrative, doctors’ and nurses’ impact on patients’ lives is priceless.