What is the difference between doctor and nurse practitioner?

Nurse practitioner vs. doctor: You might hear that nurse practitioners and doctors are similar but different professions. So what is the difference between a nurse practitioner and a doctor?

To understand better what nurse practitioner vs. doctor means, we should first look into each profession. So what is a nurse practitioner? Nurse Practitioners (NP) are highly trained Nurses who act as primary caregivers and they’re able to diagnose conditions, prescribe medications and suggest treatments to patients. Doctors, or Physicians, have a greater scope of practice than NPs. They diagnose illnesses and prescribe medicine and treatments, but they can also perform surgeries. While both Nurse Practitioners and Doctors are advanced healthcare professionals, Doctors have higher authority than Nurse Practitioners in many areas (e.g. California).

Educational differences

To become a Nurse Practitioner, you need to first obtain a degree in Nursing, become a Registered Nurse (RN) and get a postgraduate degree (often a PhD).

Doctors can hold either of the two degrees available in the US: Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) having graduated from medical programs and completed a residency. Their studies and formal training last longer than those of NPs.

NPs and Doctors are licensed by distinct regulatory bodies.

Specializations

Nurse Practitioners can be specialized in various areas. The most common specializations include family health, neonatal care, adult-gerontological care, mental health, oncology and pediatric or women’s health.

Doctors can have these specializations and more, such as allergology, immunology, dermatology, cardiology, etc.

Practice authority

Doctors have full practice authority – meaning they can practice medicine according to their training and expertise without any supervision or restriction as long as they have a valid license.

NPs have full practice authority in some states, but reduced or restricted practice in others (for example, they need to have a collaborative agreement with Doctors to prescribe medications). NPs work under supervising physicians in many cases.

There’s a number of areas (e.g. Oklahoma) where Nurse Practitioners push for getting full practice authority to help alleviate growing health problems in the population. While the necessity to expand authority for NPs is controversial, there’s evidence that they can give high-quality care to patients, just like doctors would.

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