In any busy hospital, you will come across two closely interlinked career fields i.e. nurse practitioner vs doctor. Both nurses and doctors attend to patients, they prescribe medications and work closely with other members of the healthcare team to provide quality care. The difference, however, is their level of training and education. If you often find these two job positions intriguing but are not sure what choice to make, this brief write-up witll help you understand which one can be your best choice.

Some of the responsibilities that nurse practitioners and doctors perform together include obtaining medical histories, prescribing medication, performing physical assessments and examinations, diagnosing and treating common ailments, administering vaccinations, screening patients, performing laboratory studies, interpreting results of lab studies and offering guidance on proper nutrition.

Sometimes this sheer amount of overlap may surprise you – but one thing you should always keep in mind is that doctors and nurse practitioners are not identical careers. Each comes with its fair share of unique roles. Let us now understand the deep differences in nurse practitioner vs doctor career fields.


The Career of a Nurse Practitioner


The nurse practitioner is categorized as one of the Advanced Practice Register Nurse (APRN) disciplines. As such a nursing practitioner has to complete advanced training as well as extensive on-job training. NPs (acronym of nurse practitioner) make up a significant part of the health care community. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the role of an NP is defined as follows “Nurse practitioners are individuals who serve as primary and specialty caregivers, they provide a blend of nursing skills with health care expertise to patients and families”. In a nutshell, based on the nurse practitioner vs doctor discussion, NPs are involved in providing primary care services just as doctors do (although doctors provide secondary care at times).

What Education Is Required to Become an NP?


First, you will need to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN) or any related fields from an accredited institution of higher learning. Besides that, you will need to be registered nurse in order to practice. Your graduate studies are mainly going to focus on health maintenance and disease prevention. You will also be trained to work in particular specialties such as emergency care, pediatric or adult care. Some graduate training programs such as master’s of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) require one to have at least 5 years of experience in the medical field prior to applying to a program.

Step 1: Graduate from high school

If you are aspiring to become an NP then you should work your level best to pass in subjects such as psychology, anatomy, chemistry, statistics and biology. In addition, you may want to choose to volunteer in hospitals to get letters of recommendation and much-needed experience for the college application process.

Step 2: Pursue a BSN

Although there are varied ways of becoming a nursing practitioner, pursuing a BSN seems to be by far the most reliable path of all. BSN classroom and practical programs contain hands-on clinical coursework and instruction in areas such as pharmacology, pathophysiology, and nursing care. To ensure maximum chances of success, it is important to undertake this degree from an institution that has been accredited by the CCNE or ACEN. This level of accreditation is important as it ensures that a program is top-notch and admissible for the registered nurse licensure examination.

Step 3: Get your RN and build experience

As part of the undergraduate degree, you will earn your RN license once you pass the exam. Additional requirements to practice may vary from state to state, but generally, this involves showing proof of having completed an approved training program and passing the NCLEX-RN exam. After that, you will typically be free to get nursing experience in the field before applying for a graduate program.

Step 4: Pursing a graduate degree

There are several types of graduate degree programs in nursing, although the two most popular ones are the MSN and DNP. MSN takes about two years to complete and once can choose to specialize in pediatrics, family, and mental health specialties. The DNP takes about four years to complete and one is required to have good GRE or MAT scores in MSN to apply. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has lauded the DNP as “the future of specialty nursing education”.

Step 5: Getting licensed

The license issuance requirements vary from state to state. Some states have a collaborative agreement in place that determines as NPs primary duties and level of independence. Such agreements establish a practice model within which nurse practitioners are allowed to practice. Generally, the work environment is a differentiator when it comes to the nurse practitioner vs doctor comparison. An NP spends most of their time in:

  • Cardiology rooms
  • Emergency rooms
  • Family practice department
  • Geriatrics department
  • Neonatology
  • Oncology
  • Pediatrics assignments
  • Primary care roles
  • School health practice
  • Women’s health

Nursing Practitioner Job Outlook and Salary


Depending on the level of training, experience and state, some of the highest paid NPs earn above $113,000 annual salary. The government predicts that by the year 2020 there will be a nurse shortage of around 800,000 positions. A shortfall of that magnitude would be significant in the nurse practitioner vs doctor industry and hence the rising demand of trained nursing practitioners.

With a rosy job outlook and seemingly attractive wages, the future earning potential for the master of science in nursing (MSN) holders looks quite promising. Of course, pay varies by geographic region and specialization, but MSN students can expect starting salaries of $60,000 upwards heading toward $90,000.

In addition, there are benefits to be factored in such as relocation assistance perks and signing bonus.

Some Work Related Facts About NPs


Another clear difference in the nurse practitioner vs doctor debate is that the prerequisite education for NPs is Bachelors degree in nursing and the learning model is medical (nursing). They spend at least 500 hours in classrooms and 700 hours in clinics. The total post high school education is 6 to 8 years. They have no residency and a master’s degree can be an added advantage. In order for one to be re-certified, they need to amass 15CE credits per year or undertake an exam every 5 years. The general average salary for NPs is $97,990. In America there are 18 states that allow nurse practitioners to practice independently these include (according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, AANP):

  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Wyoming
  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • North Dakota
  • New Mexico
  • New Hampshire
  • Montana
  • Maine
  • Iowa
  • Idaho
  • Hawaii
  • Colorado
  • Arizona
  • Alaska

The Career of a Doctor


Perhaps the first and last people we usually meet in life are the doctors as they are a very important part of our lives. Doctors examine, diagnose and treat patients. Based on their findings, they prescribe medications and treatment in an attempt to heal any injuries or illnesses. They can choose to work as general practice physicians or specialize in a number of medical areas including:

  • Dermatopathology
  • Pediatrics
  • Cardiology
  • Anesthesiology
  • Dentistry
  • Urology

When considering the options in nurse practitioner vs doctor it is important to keep in mind that an undergrad degree is very important. This is in addition to regular clinical rotations and on-job coaching.

What Education Is Needed to Become a Doctor?


Becoming a doctor is not a very easy thing and may sometimes take a decade. To become a doctor you need to be prepared to work very hard and to go through some hardships in the process. What’s more, the decision to be a doctor is generally not an easy one as it needs a substantial amount of time and money to achieve. You may have sleepless nights and wonder if it is worth all your time and efforts, but in the end, you will realize it is. So, if you’re thinking of choosing a medical career out of the expansive nurse practitioner vs doctor environment, here are steps to have a good career as a doctor.

Step 1: Graduate High School

The initial step if you’re actually thinking of the qualifications of becoming a doctor should be decided when you’re in high school. Therefore, you are required to perform well in school by earning good grades, volunteering at doctors’ offices, nursing facilities or hospitals and taking various science courses like mathematics, chemistry, physics and biology.

Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

Having completed high school, the next step is obtaining a bachelor’s degree. To acquire the best bachelor’s degree, ensure you apply to the right college. Some medical schools may allow their students to complete a bachelor’s and medical degree at the same time. However, although every medical school has its own set of requirements, to ensure a competitive advantage over nurse practitioner vs doctor comparison you will most likely need a strong focus on the following areas:

  • Inorganic chemistry
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Anatomy
  • Calculus

A fair knowledge in these subjects would really help in your study at medical school later. It is also important you maintain a high-Grade Point Average (GPA) to improve your chances of being accepted into a medical school.

Step 3: Take the MCAT Exam

This is the Medical College Admission Test that you need to clear in order to be accepted in a medical school since medical schools are very competitive. It is a standardized, multiple-choice test that assesses the skills and knowledge necessary to be a successful medical candidate and can be taken at any time. However, a lot of students usually take it the year before they hope to enter the medical school. So the better you score at this test, the better the school you get admitted into. The test is divided into 3 main sections including biological sciences, physical science, and verbal reasoning but there is an un-scored voluntary trial section also.

Step 4: Application to Medical School

To make sure the panel reading your application find you deserving and knowledgeable in nurse practitioner vs doctor matters, you need to ensure your application is as impressive as possible. Sometimes you might even be called for an interview by the medical school, so you need to be prepared properly for all possible questions you might be asked during the interview.

In addition, before you gain admission into any medical school, ensure you choose an appropriate school for you. You can either choose allopathic which offers students a Doctorate of Medicine (M.D.) or osteopathic which offers a Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). These two programs are nearly similar except for the fact that the D.O program usually involves training in osteopathic manipulative medicine.

Step 5: Residency Completion

Having graduated from medical school, doctorate students must complete a paid residency training at a hospital. The period you take to complete this training usually depends on the kind of specialty you opt for. However, it should take anything between 3-8 years depending on your specialty.

Step 6: Obtain a License

To be able to practice medicine you need to obtain a license. When it comes to acquiring a license, the rules and requirements for nurse practitioner vs doctor usually vary from state to state hence aspiring physicians need to contact their state’s medical board for more details. However, all states require doctors to pass a standardized national exam. The two types of national licensing exams for doctors include:

1. U.S Medical Licensing Examination for M.D.s — administered by the Federation of State Medical Boards of the U.S and National Board of Medical Examiners.

2. Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination for D.O.s — administered by the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners.

Job Outlook and Salary of a Doctor



Another factor to consider in the nurse practitioner vs doctor debate is salary. The average salary for doctors varies significantly based on their area of specialty and years of experience. For instance, a report from BLS as of May 2015, family and general practice doctors earned an average annual income of $192,120. Specialists, on the other hand, earn over $339,000 annually with some of the most highly paid doctors being:

  • Orthopedic surgeon – around $409,405 annually
  • Cardiac surgeon – about $401,325 annually
  • Neurosurgeon – over $400, 000 annually and about $100 per hour
  • Anesthesiologist – about $333,108 annually
  • Urologist – between $100,367 and $464,783

Some Work Related Facts About Doctors




One major difference between doctor and nurse practitioner is the learning model which is a medical physician for doctors. In addition, to become a doctor, you should be prepared to go through two years in a classroom, two years in a clinic, eight years in high school, four years of medical school and 3 to 8 years in residency training program. So typically, it might take you up to 16 years to become a doctor.

The Future of Doctors


The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment opportunities for doctors should grow 18% from 2012 to 2022. This is because the population is aging thereby leading to an increased demand for doctors and many doctors are anticipated to retire over the next few years. Another contributing factor to the expected steady growth in doctor positions is that more people have access to insurance coverage with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. However, things like new technology might lessen the demand for doctors because doctors will be able to treat more patients in less time while NPs will be taking more responsibilities. But still, this field of medicine is expected to add about 123,300 jobs by 2022.

Direct Comparison of Nurse Practitioners and Doctors



  • Level of Education

Both job roles require one to have an undergraduate degree from a recognized institution. However, not just any other degree will get you there. First, to become a nursing practitioner you need to undertake a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree for 4 years. On the other hand, to become a doctor you will need to undertake an undergrad degree in medicine which takes 4 years. These two degrees are very different in structure and coursework. Besides that, after graduating a doctor has to undertake 3 – 8 more years of residency training which is not the case with NPs.

  • Licensure and Certification

After completing training and residency, both the nurse practitioner vs doctor have to obtain a license to practice from a state or jurisdiction of the United States of America in which they’re planning to practice. Both apply for licensure after completing a series of exams and fulfilling the minimum number of years of graduate medical education. Further to that, doctors may choose to be registered under the American Board of Medical Specialties (in their specialty or subspecialty areas) to enhance their professional development throughout their career. Currently, only Indiana, California and Kansas recognize NPs without APRN licensure. As such, to maximize your chances of employment, there are several bodies that offer certification for NPs among them:

  • Job Roles

Although both nurse practitioner vs doctor work in the same environment, they do have separate responsibilities with a few overlaps here and there. It is the job of an NP to interpret diagnostic and therapeutic tests, prescribe treatment, assist with the provision of surgical care and monitor effectiveness of medical interventions. Doctors, on the other hand, evaluate symptoms and run a series of tests to diagnose a patient’s condition prior to prescribing a remedy. Specialized doctors may perform surgeries. Others spend most of their time studying medical problems and identifying challenges faced in particular diagnoses. Some doctors implement techniques related to nuclear medicine for diagnosing and treating particular ailments as well. In a nutshell, although doctors and NPs perform roles that are almost similar, doctors take a more specialized approach. NPs are left to handle the basic and routine tasks while doctors go a step further to offer extensive treatment and analyses of conditions.

  • Salary Levels and Job Outlook

In general, in terms of salary for nurse practitioner vs doctor, doctors pocket more money than NPs. For instance, the average salary of a general practice doctor is estimated at $192,120. Specialist doctors can earn even more with orthopedics and cardiologists earning way above $400,000 in annual salary. Nursing practitioners, on the other hand, an average of $90,000 per year with the highest paid ones pocketing above $113,000. The starting salary for an NP is around $60,000 (may vary by geographical region) and for doctors, the starting figure is at $165,000. Emergency room doctors can pocket even more as starting salary sometimes in the excess of $210,284.


The debate about nurse practitioner vs doctor (and who does what) has been raging for many years now. However, as we have seen in this article, although the two professions are entrusted with closely related responsibilities, there exist some subtle differences.

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