Are Nurse Practitioners Like Physicians?

If you are thinking about becoming a nurse practitioner with a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, it is a good idea to understand the differences between nurse practitioners and physicians. Featured Programs: Sponsored School(s) Sponsored School(s) All school search, finder, or match results, as well as colleges and universities displayed as “Featured School(s)” or “Sponsored … Continue reading “Are Nurse Practitioners Like Physicians?”

If you are thinking about becoming a nurse practitioner with a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, it is a good idea to understand the differences between nurse practitioners and physicians.

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Nurse Practitioner Overview

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) defines NPs as trained, licensed, and independent healthcare providers that focus on maintaining a patient’s health conditions, such as illnesses, injuries and supporting preventive measures. They are allowed to do some of the more basic things that doctors can do but at a lower cost. An NP is licensed as a type of advanced practice registered nurse or APRN. Nurse practitioners tend to specialize in certain subspecialties or certain populations. Some of the common specialties and subspecialties are: (

  • Family practice
  • Pediatrics
  • Women’s health
  • Dermatology
  • Cardiology
  • Oncology
  • Behavioral health
  • Psychiatry

Nurse practitioners need at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to practice. But a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is now becoming more standard in the profession.

Common duties of a nurse practitioner are:

  • Record patients’ symptoms and medical histories
  • Do physical examinations of patients and observe them, sometimes under the supervision of a doctor
  • Create patient care plans
  • Order and perform diagnostic tests
  • Monitor and operate medical equipment
  • Diagnose health problems
  • Analyze test results or any changes in the patient’s condition
  • Give medicines and treatments to patients
  • Consult with doctors as needed

The DNP degree takes approximately three or four years after the master’s degree, with courses consisting of ones such as these: (

  • Theoretical and Scientific Foundations for Nursing
  • Methods for Evidence-Based Practice
  • Transforming Nursing and Healthcare Through Technology
  • Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement
  • Best Practices in Nursing Specialties
  • Healthcare Policy and Advocacy
  • Evidence-Based Practice: Planning and Implementation

Earning your DNP is a good choice because you can earn your degree in a few years and earn a good salary. The total educational commitment from earning your bachelor’s in nursing to a DNP is approximately six or seven years. The median salary for all nurse practitioners today is $107,500, and the top 10% can earn more than $150,000 per year. Job demand is outstanding, with a 23% increase in demand expected by 2028. (

The top industries for NPs are as follows:

  • Hospitals: $120,000
  • Outpatient care centers: $115,700
  • Offices of healthcare practitioners: $112,700
  • Doctors’ offices: $111,400
  • Educational services: $104,300

Physician Overview

An MD is a doctor of medicine who is able to diagnose medical conditions, treat patients for all illnesses, and write prescriptions. While some doctors may refer the patient to specialized care, such as to a dermatologist, the physician has a complete, well-rounded education that overlaps with many medical specialties.

Common duties of doctors are:

  • Take the medical history of the patient
  • Update charts and information of the patient to reveal current treatments and findings
  • Order tests from other healthcare staff
  • Review results of tests to find anything abnormal
  • Recommend and design a treatment plan
  • Address questions and concerns that patients have about their health

The NP conducts many of the same functions as a doctor, but is more limited in scope, and must work under the supervision of a doctor. The nurse practitioner also can prescribe most medications and diagnose most conditions. Some states have various laws governing what NPs can and cannot do; some NPs are allowed to work autonomously in some states but not all. (

One of the major differences between a doctor and an NP is the doctor is a scientist. They study diseases and how they can be cured. NPs are basically healers. Most NPs start as RNs and focus on wellness of the body and mind. That is not to say that doctors never take a holistic approach to their patients. But the basic patient approach does have differences at the philosophical level.

To become a doctor is a much more demanding educational process. A doctor must have a bachelor’s in a science-related degree, four years of medical school, and then a residency and internship, bringing the total education to about 12 years.

In 34 states, NPs are lobbying the state governments to reduce restrictions on what services they can provide. At this time, only 16 states allow NPs to work without MD supervision. NPs are sometimes known as the bridge between RNs and MDs: They possess two more years of education than RNs, but they do not have as much training as an MD. Also, a key difference is the NP is licensed by the Nursing Board, while doctors possess a license from the Medical Doctor’s Board.

If you decide to become a doctor, you will earn a higher salary than a nurse practitioner. BLS reports the median salary for doctors is $208,000. ( Top industries for doctors are:

  • Anesthesiologists: $267,000
  • Surgeons: $255,000
  • Obstetricians: $238,200
  • Psychiatrists: $220,300
  • Family and general practitioners: $211,700
  • Internists: $196,400
  • Pediatricians: $183,200

Job demand for doctors will be 7% by 2028, which is faster than average. The growing and aging population should increase the need for doctors, but there are more nurse practitioners and physician assistants being hired instead of doctors in rural and urban areas because they can do much of the same work at a lower price. (

Accessibility of NPs and Doctors

The rise of the nurse practitioner is occurring because of the shortage of doctors all over America, especially in primary care. Many hospitals, private clinics, and urgent care locations rely more on NPs today to fill the need for medical professionals. Patients who insist on seeing physicians may need to wait longer before their appointment. But patients who see NPs can often get an appointment within a day or even less. Because of the doctor shortage, many urgent care facilities use nurse practitioners instead of doctors.

How Healthcare Is Changing Demand for Nurse Practitioners and Doctors

The growing need for NPs can satisfy the need for doctors in the United States, but more doctors are trying to not let nurse practitioners care for patients without direct supervision. The US currently faces a shortage of at least 13,000 doctors, which could grow to 13,000 in ten years. Meanwhile, there are at least 155,000 nurse practitioners who could fulfill that need. Down the road, this could cause issues for NPs who want to practice without doctor supervision, especially in urgent care facilities.


Understanding the differences between NPs and regular doctors can be challenging in some cases. The key things to keep in mind are:

  • Becoming an NP with a DNP degree takes less time than it does to become an MD. You will spend a full 12 years becoming a doctor, while six years is a typical educational path for an NP earning a Bachelor’s of Nursing, Master’s of Nursing, and Doctor of Nursing Practice.
  • You can earn a high salary as an NP, but not as high an a doctor.
  • There are different philosophies behind doctors and NPs. Doctors focus on science and curing diseases, while NPs are more like healers, which is understandable, given their RN background.
  • There is growing pressure within the states to allow more NPs to work autonomously without the supervision of doctors. It is important to check the laws of your state to determine how much autonomy you are allowed per state law.