Difference between a Doctor and a Nurse

You are in the hospital and you want to ask someone for help but you want to make sure that you ask the right person. Do you want to risk stopping a doctor rushing off to an emergency for something a nurse can do, or do you risk bothering a nurse with something you need a doctor’s opinion on first? What does a doctor do and what does a nurse do?


Doctor vs Nurse
A nurse and a doctor talking by the side of a patient’s bed

A doctor is a physician, a professional who has studied medicine and whose job is that of restoring the health of the individuals he examines. He must act in cases of disease and injury in accordance with his knowledge and training. Medicine is divided into numerous branches and doctors specialize in the study and treatment of each of them. According to the medical problem of the patient, the corresponding doctor will be consulted.

Medicine has been around for a long time and so have its practitioners. Before it became a science, the people in early tribes were treated by witch doctors and village wise men and women who knew a lot about plants and could make cures and concoctions for internal illnesses.

In order to become a doctor, a person usually needs to attend a Medical School for three – four years followed by an internship in a hospital. This preparation phase is called a residency and can last up to 6 years. At the end of each of these stages, difficult exams need to be passed in order for the doctors to prove that they are ready to be trusted with people’s lives.

According to the specialty and the type of interventions or consultations provided, a doctor’s salary can range between $160,000 to $240,000 a year.

A nurse is a person who has been trained to assist doctors and to care for and monitor patients. In mild, non-critical situations they can assess a patient’s health condition, suggest a medical plan and implement it without the supervision of a doctor. Schools, retirement homes, military facilities, hospices, cruise ships and other such institutions usually have a nurse’s office for non-serious medical problems which can be treated on the spot or which can be identified and directed to a specialized doctor.

There are several types of nurse, according to the level of their training and their certifications. They are:

  • Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) – they train for 18 months – 2 years, must pass state or national boards for license renewals and must operate under the supervision of a physician;
  • Registered nurses – have diplomas or degrees in nursing as well as clinical experience and they must pass examinations; they can supervise the activity of the LPNs;
  • Advanced practice nurses – have the most experience and medical knowledge and they can even teach, diagnose and prescribe treatment.

Nurses’ salary ranges can vary according to their training and the responsibilities they have, the type of institution they work in etc. Basically we are talking about a range from $39,000 to $157,000/year for really experienced nurses with a high position and a lot of responsibility.

Doctor vs Nurse

So what is the difference between doctor and nurse?

A good place to start would be by answering the question of why we ask this. A few years back, the answer would have been obvious: doctors are the ones who give a diagnosis and decide on the treatment, while nurses are the ones who apply the treatment and monitor the patient. However, in recent years, nursing has grown closer and closer to general medicine studies and more of the doctors’ responsibilities have been passed to the nurses. Both doctors as well as nurses go through a lot of training. The main difference lies with the fact that doctors specialize, whereas nurses’ training is more generic so as to be able to help out in various areas when needed. Doctors are the ones who operate and they have nurses who specialize in surgery who assist.

A generalized way of putting things would be to say that nurses take over the large share of physical tasks in a hospital, whereas the life and death decisions regarding patients usually lie with the doctors. Salary is another big differentiator between nurses and doctors, a doctor’s salary always being higher than a nurse’s.

Comparison Chart

Doctor Nurse
Must attend medical school and complete a 6-year hospital internship before being a qualified doctor Must complete 1 ½ – 2 years nursing school at least, then can continue training according to how much experience and knowledge they want to acquire
Get specialized Have more general training so as to be able to help out in various departments
Can earn from $ 160,000 to $ 240,000 a year Can earn from $ 39,000 to $ 157,000 a year
Can diagnose and prescribe treatment, can operate Can apply treatment; can diagnose and prescribe treatment at a certain level of training