Difference between a Nurse Practitioner and a Doctor

Updated on July 25, 2018

A nurse practitioner and doctor perform a number of similar functions, but there are still key differences between the two, especially in terms of training and professional limitations. This article draws the line between these two health occupations.

Summary Table

Nurse PractitionerDoctor
Required to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), pass the nursing licensure exam, and earn at least a master’s degree in nursing (MSN)Required to complete a bachelor’s degree relevant to the medical field (e.g. nursing, pre-med, or chemistry), finish medical school and their residency, and pass the medical licensing exam
Completion typically takes 6 to 8 yearsCompletion takes an average of 11 years
Examinations include a nursing licensure and a state nursing practitioner licensure examinationRequired to complete and pass a licensure exam in medicine
Follows a patient-centered modelFollows a disease-centered model
Have more limitations in terms of scope of workHave fewer limitations in terms of scope of work
Median salary is around $100,910Median salary is around $221,419

Definitions

medical staff

A nurse practitioner, also called an NP, is a registered nurse who has undergone an advanced training program. As a clinician, a nurse practitioner is trained to provide autonomous care to patients.

A doctor, on the other hand, is a licensed professional who is fully qualified to practice medicine. A doctor may or may not have a specialty.

Nurse Practitioner vs Doctor

Although they both work towards providing patients holistic care and treatment, there are major differences between a nurse practitioner and a doctor.

Qualifications

The road to becoming a nurse practitioner is shorter than that of pursuing a medical degree. A nurse practitioner is required to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), pass the nursing licensure exam and earn at least a master’s degree in nursing (MSN). Aspiring nurse practitioners can also pursue higher education by earning a doctorate in nursing practice (DNP) and participating in programs where they can get a certificate.

A doctor, on the other hand, undergoes more extensive training. In terms of qualifications, doctors can be categorized into two major types: a general practitioner (GP) and a specialty doctor. Both are required to complete a bachelor’s degree relevant to the medical field (e.g., nursing, pre-med or chemistry), finish medical school and their residency, and pass the medical licensing exam. However, unlike GP’s, specialty doctors need to engage in further studies to specialize in their chosen field (e.g. pediatrics, surgery, or geriatrics).

Timeline

Between the two, becoming a nurse practitioner involves a shorter time frame. After post-secondary education, it takes an average of 6 to 8 years to be a qualified nurse practitioner – 4 years to finish a bachelor’s degree in nursing and 2 to 4 years to graduate from a nursing masters or doctorate program. A doctor, by comparison, goes through longer years of study and practice. Depending on field of practice, it can take 11 years or more to become a licensed doctor.

Certification and Licensing

A nurse practitioner must complete and pass two board exams: a nursing licensure and a state nursing practitioner licensure examination. Like a doctor, nursing practitioners can also pursue a specialty and obtain the certification based on their chosen field.

A doctor must acquire a medical license – requirements of which may change in every state. Specialty doctors must also get re-certified regularly to ensure proper care.

Health Models

Since a nurse practitioner and a doctor follow different health models, their approach in providing healthcare greatly varies. The former is focused on a patient-centered model, which revolves around disease prevention and health education. The latter, by contrast, follows a disease-centered model, which focuses on disease assessment and treatment.

Scope of Work and Limitations

The duties and responsibilities of a nurse practitioner and a doctor greatly vary depending on state laws and their specialization (for doctors). A nurse practitioner can perform some of the duties of a medical doctor such as assessing and diagnosing medical conditions, ordering and interpreting laboratory results, performing medical tests, and prescribing medications. However, between the two occupations, nurse practitioners have more limitations in their scope of work. In cases where extensive or advanced care is needed, nurse practitioners can provide assistance to doctors, but they cannot act autonomously.

Salary

The median salary of nurse practitioners is around $100,910 while doctors (general practitioners) earn a median salary of about $221,419.

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