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Difference Between Nurse Practitioner & Doctor

Nurse practitioners and doctors are medical professionals, and while nurse practitioners and doctors may have many similar duties, doctors are more extensively trained and have more opportunities for specialization.

Comparing Nurse Practitioners to Doctors

Nurse practitioners and doctors are both responsible for seeing patients and assessing their condition. They may diagnose patients and determine how to treat them. The key differences between nurse practitioners and doctors are that doctors require several additional years of postsecondary study and earn higher incomes.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary* (2016) Job Outlook* (2014-2024)
Nurse Practitioner Master's Degree in Nursing $100,910 35%
Doctor Medical Degree $221,419 (Family Medicine) 10% (Family and General Practitioners)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Nurse Practitioners vs. Doctors

Although different states may have some specific restrictions on what tasks nurse practitioners can perform, most nurse practitioners perform many of the same tasks as a doctor who specializes as a family or general practitioner. Nurse practitioners and doctors see patients and may order tests, prescribe medications or refer patients to specialists. While doctors are required to have a medical degree and complete residency and internship programs, nurse practitioners can enter their field with a master's degree. Doctors also typically earn more than twice as much as nurse practitioners. Although nurse practitioners can specialize in some fields, doctors have a wider range of specialization areas they can explore. Some doctors may only work with patients who have been referred to them by nurse practitioners or general practitioners.

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners work with patients to identify medical issues or potential health concerns. Nurse practitioners are required to have a master's degree in their field, pass a national exam, and have a nursing license. Since they are responsible for evaluating patients and identifying potential medical issues they must be thorough and be able to get the patient to communicate effectively with them so that they're aware of any symptoms that may affect a diagnosis or treatment. Nurse practitioners may be the primary medical professional that a patient regularly sees. They may also specialize in a specific field and work primarily with patients with specific medical issues or of specific ages.

Job responsibilities of a nurse practitioner include:

  • Meeting patients and discussing their medical history
  • Updating patient charts with relevant information
  • Determining if medical tests are needed to confirm a diagnosis
  • Reviewing test results
  • Determining which medications can be used to treat a patient and prescribing them
  • Developing treatment plans for their patients

Doctor

Doctors are medical professionals who treat patients. After earning a bachelor's degree they must complete medical school. Doctors typically choose an area they specialize in, and as part of their training they must complete an internship and residency in that field. They may have an office where they see patients, work in a clinic, or may primarily work at a hospital. Those who are self-employed or work in an office may most commonly work daytime hours, while those who work at clinics or hospitals may work evenings, overnight shifts and weekends as well.

Job responsibilities of a doctor include:

  • Meeting patients to discuss their medical issues
  • Examining patients
  • Interviewing patients regarding factors that may affect their health, such as eating habits and exercise
  • Sending patients for appropriate medical tests and reviewing results
  • Referring patients to specialists

Related Careers

Individuals interested in becoming a nurse practitioner may want to start out in a career as a registered nurse, since registered nurses may also specialize and provide direct patient care to individuals who are ill or injured. Physical therapists specialize in treating patients with mobility issues, so those interested in pursing a career as a doctor who are interested in this area of medical treatment may want to consider being a physical therapist instead.


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