Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician: Which Career is Right for You?

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), Americans are becoming increasingly confident in choosing a nurse practitioner as their primary healthcare provider.

Many medical school graduates are opting to specialize rather than enter primary care. The choice to specialize has left a shortage of primary care providers, and Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are filling the gap.

Nurse Practitioners vs Physicians

Maverick Health defines the roles of physicians and NPs as differing in focus, “a physician is a person with formal education and training in medicine, i.e., the treatment of diseases using drugs, procedures and/or surgery. A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with formal education in the care of the sick plus advanced education and training in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of common and chronic illnesses.”

According to the AANP, “by providing high-quality care and counseling, NPs can lower the cost of health care for patients. For example, patients who see NPs as their primary care provider often have fewer emergency room visits, shorter hospital stays and lower medication costs.”

Physicians and NPs are similar in that both diagnose, treat and manage acute and chronic diseases, order and interpret labs and diagnostic tests, and prescribe medications. Doctors and NPs are different in their educational backgrounds and their approach to patient care; physicians study diseases and how to cure them while nurse practitioners study people and how to heal them. While some NPs take a specialized certification exam to be able to secure an advanced practice license, specialization is common for doctors.

The primary specializations for an NP are:

  • Adult-Gerontological Health
  • Family Health
  • Neonatal Health
  • Pediatric/Child Health

Some popular specializations for physicians include:

  • Allergists
  • Anesthesiologists
  • Family and General Practice
  • General Internists
  • Surgeons

NPs can prescribe medications in any state, but their level of autonomy in doing so varies. Some states require RNs to have a collaborative agreement with doctors to prescribe medications, medical devices and some treatments. Advanced practice registered nurses are authorized to prescribe to patients in states where they hold a valid license to practice, however their scope of practice varies in each state. Licensed physicians can prescribe medications without consultation.

NPs must be licensed, usually by their home state Board of Nursing, plus receive national certification from the AANP or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) for specialties. Doctors are licensed by passing the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, which is sponsored by the Federation of State Medical Boards and the National Board of Medical Examiners, or another licensing examination as defined by each state board.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for doctors is upwards of $200,000 a year. NPs, on the other hand, earned a median income of $103,880 in 2017. The ten-year job outlook for the career shows that it will experience a 13 percent growth by 2026. This is due to an overall increase in demand for healthcare services in the U.S., as well as the result of an aging population. Though the demand for doctors is increasing, the demand for NPs is skyrocketing; the ten-year job outlook shows an increase of 31 percent by 2026.

Take the Next Step with Rivier University

In Rivier University’s online family nurse practitioner program, you will gain the skills necessary to serve as a primary healthcare provider. Students in the program receive advanced theory and clinical education in topics such as pathophysiology, health assessment, and how to critically evaluate published research to improve patient outcomes.

Multiple term starts and competitive tuition rates are designed to help you begin – and complete – your degree faster, typically in 3-5 years.

Are you already an NP and want to practice at your maximum potential? Rivier University also offers an online DNP program to help you achieve this goal.