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Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: What Are the Differences?

You're here because you want to know the difference between a nurse practitioner and a medical doctor, and you're in the right place. In this post, we'll cover what a nurse practitioner is, guide you through the differences between a nurse practitioner and a doctor, share how to become a nurse practitioner, review how much a nurse practitioner can make, how to become a nurse practitioner and explain nurse practitioner authority.

Table of Contents

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are nurses who have completed a master's or doctor-level program that has provided them with clinical and didactic training that surpasses the training of a registered nurse (RN) and has prepared them to be primary care clinicians. They can work in acute care settings and long-term care settings as well.

What Are the Differences Between a Nurse Practitioner and a Doctor?

  • NP training is different and less extensive than medical doctors. The path to becoming a doctor is typically 11-15 years. Alternatively, the path to becoming an NP is nearly half as long, usually six to eight years.
  • NPs are licensed by their state's board of nursing, whereas doctors are licensed by a medical board.
  • Some states limit NP authority. One of the most common examples is that NPs can only prescribe medications in some states when they have physician (doctor) oversight.
  • From a philosophical standpoint, medical doctors treat diseases, whereas NPs focus on healing and well-being. 
  • While both can specialize, the specializations for NPs are typically broader than those of doctors.
  • The average salary for a physician varies significantly by specialization but is higher than a nurse practitioner can expect to earn.

How Much Does a Nurse Practitioner Make?

As mentioned earlier, the average salary for an NP is less than that of a medical doctor, almost by half, which makes a specific type of sense when you consider the education and training for a physician is almost twice as long. Nevertheless, it is also significantly higher than that of an RN.

Understandably, salary averages vary by geographic location, with the highest in CaliforniaNew JerseyNew YorkWashington, and Massachusetts. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the overall average salary for NPs nationwide is $118,040, with the highest 10% earning an average of $163,350. The highest-paying sectors for NPs are home healthcare, psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, and outpatient care centers.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

To become an NP, you must first become a registered nurse and hold a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Most NPs complete their graduate degrees in primary care, but they can specialize as well, such as in public health, family, pediatrics, gerontology, primary care, acute care, and psychiatry. A few years of work experience is typically preferred, if not required, before you can then enter a nurse practitioner graduate program.

To practice, once a graduate program is completed, NP must become licensed. Licensure is available through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board or the American Nurses Credentialing Center and must be verified by their state board of nursing.

Nurse Practitioner Authority Explained

While all NPs are highly trained and complete rigorous educational and clinical studies to work as healthcare providers, not all states allow them to practice independently or with full authority. Certain restrictions in these states, therefore, limit their scope of practice. There are three categories for what is referred to as nurse practitioner authority: restricted practice, reduced practice, and complete practice authority.

Full practice authority states allow NPs to work independently of physicians, including establishing their healthcare practices and prescribing medications, tests, and diagnostics.

Reduced practice authority states prevent NPs from having independent practices. While they can work independently within a practice run by a physician, reduced authority typically requires physician oversight for medication prescriptions.

Restricted practice authority is the most constrictive of the categories. NPs are not only prevented from setting up their independent practices but cannot practice independently at all. Physician oversight is required for the entire scope of their work.

Where Can Nurse Practitioners Work?

NPs can work in a variety of settings. As previously explained, in some states NPs can establish independent practices and provide primary care services to their communities. NPs can also work in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, surgical clinics, schools, and physician practices.

Nurse Practitioners are in High Demand

According to the BLS, employment levels for NPs are expected to grow at a rate of 40% through the year 2030, which is faster than the averages for all other healthcare professions, even different APRN roles. What are the factors pushing this level of demand?

  • The aging generations require more medical care, often with chronic and multiple health issues.
  • The physician shortage is expected to reach 124,000 through this next decade, further limiting access to healthcare providers for people who need them.
  • Transitioning healthcare treatment from reacting to focusing on preventative care, which NPs are well-suited to do.


Booher, RN
Blog published on:
February 27, 2023

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