Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor Differences

A doctor is a doctor and a nurse is a nurse, right? Actually, this isn’t entirely the case. Just as there are many different types of doctors, there are different types of nurses. You have RN’s, LVN’s and more. There are also Nurse-Practitioners, which often perform most of the same duties, care and services as a family physician. So what ARE the differences and similarities, and what route should a student who wishes to practice medicine take?

What Is A Nurse Practitioner?

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has completed additional doctorate programs and clinical training. A nurse practitioner provides care to patients including diagnosis, prescribing medications, exams, follow-up care and ordering tests, treatments and other procedures. Many people see nurse practitioners for preventative care such as physical exams and screenings.

One thing to keep in mind is that many nurse practitioners start off as RN’s and choose to continue their education to become nurse practitioners. Compared to this, doctors don’t generally start as nurses (although it does happen.) Most doctors start their education knowing that they are going to become a doctor. A career as a nurse practitioner often begins when a nurse decides to further their career.

What Are The Limits Of A Nurse Practitioner?

This varies from state to state, and even in restricted states there are few differences in what a nurse practitioner can do. The biggest difference is that nurse practitioners must work underneath and answer to a physician, and in some cases are not permitted to prescribe narcotics. In some states, however, a nurse practitioner is able to work independently of a doctor, prescribe needed medications including narcotics and perform the same functions as any other doctor. In fact, a nurse practitioner could start his or her own practice in some states.

What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Being A Nurse Practitioner vs. A Doctor?

One of the more glaring differences between a doctor and a nurse practitioner is pay. Nurse practitioners make less money in most cases. The difference is significant: A nurse practitioner earns, on average, about $101,000 annually compared to a family practice doctor, who makes around $192,000 annually although that figure can easily top $200,000 in some states, while a nurse practitioner will only top out at about $135,000 in the most expensive cities. This is a huge difference, and for some it may seem ridiculous to pursue a career where you do the work of a physician for not much more than half the pay.

Before moving on to the advantages of being a nurse practitioner, the next disadvantage that some people would list is prestige. For some people, the title of “Doctor” is important. While a nurse practitioner is every bit as essential and works just as hard, the reality is they are not a doctor, and so may not garner the same level of respect and recognition. If this is important to you, then a career as a nurse practitioner may not be for you.

Choosing To Be A Nurse Practitioner: The Advantages

While the pay level is lower than that of a doctor, the salary is still high for a non-physician working in the medical field. But the advantages aren’t about the money. Quality of life is something not everyone thinks about when choosing a career in the medical field. For many people, being a nurse-practitioner means working fewer hours and providing a higher level of individualized, personal care for patients.

Doctors are often rushed, and many people who seek medical care report spending far more time with nurse practitioners than their doctor, who they often only see for a few minutes. This can be very frustrating for doctors who got into the field to work with patients. Many doctors complain of the lack of time they are able to spend with their patients, and the fact that they aren’t able to develop a rapport with those that they care for.

A nurse practitioner has the advantage of more time with patients, and is also able to provide a different level of care. Doctors are focused on diagnostics and specific types of treatment, whereas nurses spend more time delving into prevention and a wider range of holistic and wellness based treatments and therapies. In many ways, a nurse practitioner has more freedom when providing care for patients.

Time Involved To Start A Career

This is another draw for people eager to work in the medical field. The time it takes to become a nurse practitioner is significantly shorter than it takes to become a doctor. Once you have your RN, you can work toward your advanced nursing degree in your spare time, if you choose. Altogether, you can complete the entire process in under seven years, compared to the ten or more years required to become a doctor. Finally, a nurse practitioner does not have to attend medical school. This is a point of contention, however, since many doctors don’t agree that nurse practitioners should be on their level, since they did not complete medical school. With that said, nurse practitioners often have years of experience in nursing when they arrive as a nurse practitioner, which in itself has tremendous value. As a patient, your nurse practitioner could have considerably more experience than your doctor, depending on how long they have been practicing.

What Is The Best Career Path To Choose?

Of course there is no right answer to this question. Each person must choose the path that resonates with them. Both careers are respected fields that allow you to help people and improve quality of life for those you care for. There is less school involved in being a nurse practitioner, and as an NP, you may work fewer hours and have more time to actually practice medicine, however you’ll make significantly less money, won’t have the title of doctor, and may experience limitations on your practice.

Ultimately, you will have to choose what is important to you and what feels right, but either career is promising, rewarding, lucrative and constantly growing.