The healthcare system of the world is rapidly evolving to fill the service gaps in every possible manner. Patients have more options to seek professional help, so much so that the difference between a nurse and doctor has become a little blurry.
Nurses are a helping hand to senior healthcare providers and are not licensed to diagnose and prescribe treatments. But with higher education, nurses can upskill to become nurse practitioners (NP) and perform in a similar capacity as doctors. For this reason, people who need healthcare facilities often wonder whether they should visit a doctor or an NP. Our aim here is to make the difference between these two professions clear. Furthermore, we will also provide some benefits of which professional to see in specific circumstances. Let’s start with the basics.
The primary differences between a doctor and a nurse practitioner
If you’ve recently been to a clinic, there are high chances that you went to see a doctor, but instead, a nurse practitioner dealt with your case. This is because the job roles of both have become similar in many ways. However, we cannot say that these two professions are interchangeable or identical. Some of the differences between these two professions are:
Different philosophical focus
Doctors become, in a manner of saying, scientists after their education. The focus of their studies is to learn about diseases and their cures. On the other hand, MSN to NP programs teach nurse practitioners about the body and mind’s wellness, making them healers and not scientists. We are not saying that doctors’ job doesn’t allow them to heal or that an NP doesn’t use scientific approaches. There are overlaps between the responsibilities of these two professions. But at the philosophical level of patient care, their methods are different.
Different educational paths into the profession
Physicians generally have to earn an MD (Doctor of Medicine) degree, which takes up about four years of learning in a medical school after completing their undergrad. So a physician spends at least eight years in education and additional time in gathering mandatory clinical experience.
On the other hand, NPs begin their healthcare education with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program or an RN program. Next, they choose their postgrad degree according to a field they want to specialize in. For example, nurses who wish to specialize in providing family care will enroll in an MSN FNP program. After completion, they’ll have to pass a state certification exam to earn their title and license. Hence, the educational period for NPs lasts about six years.
Some doctors opt for general practice, but most of them choose specializations in different fields. For example, a cardiovascular specialist will treat heart-related conditions. A gastroenterologist will treat diseases and disorders of the human digestive system.
NPs have specializations as well, but their disciplines tend to be broader. These specializations enable NPs to provide holistic and primary healthcare services. Some examples of their occupations include Psychiatric-mental health NP, Family Nurse Practitioner, etc. also, NPs work extensively in community settings such as public health nursing.
Responsibilities of a doctor and NP
The responsibilities of a doctor include:
- To diagnose and then treat injuries and illnesses
- Recording the medical history of the patient
- Ordering diagnostic tests and examinations and reviewing the results
- Designing treatment plans
- Answering patients’ questions and addressing their concerns
- Educating patients
The responsibilities of an NP include:
- Ordering, performing, and reviewing diagnostic tests and examinations
- Maintaining patient’s medical history and record
- Diagnosing acute as well as chronic medical conditions and treating them
- Providing counsel to the patients
- Educating the patient about health management
The benefits of seeing a doctor
Doctors can help you in numerous ways, such as diagnosing the disease, designing a treatment plan, analyzing your medical history, and educating you about preventative measures. When you go for routine check-ups, your doctor can monitor your health records as well as the health issues you face. The doctor can also help you in preventing such problems from arising again. If you have any persistent illness or a pre-existing medical condition, you should visit a doctor. They can analyze your medical history and troubleshoot the problems while preparing a new treatment plan for you.
Apart from that, if you are having trouble getting an accurate diagnosis for your illness or your symptoms, you should visit a doctor. Their vast clinical experience, expertise, and specialization enable them to provide the best services. However, this does not imply that NPs do not know what they’re talking about. Visiting an NP has a different set of perks.
The benefits of seeing a nurse practitioner
Visiting a doctor can be tempting. But the truth is that NPs are just as qualified and knowledgeable. The benefit is that the latter don’t have long waiting times for an appointment. They can provide your healthcare services efficiently.
Because of their readiness and availability, NPs see a diverse range of patients. This gives them immense experiences. For this reason, NPs are more skilled at providing preventative healthcare services. They help make their patients heal quickly, feel better, and comfortable. So you can visit an NP for vaccinations, diagnosis of seasonal illnesses, routine check-ups, screenings, etc.
Who should you visit?
In case your condition requires urgent attention, you should book an appointment with an NP. The reason is simple; you don’t have to wait for an eternity to get help. Thus, you can get assistance sooner than waiting for a doctor.
Apart from that, doctors tend to take time off for holidays and breaks, which means patients will have to wait a long time to see their doctor in the case of an emergency. Meanwhile, a nurse practitioner can diagnose your condition, prescribe medicine, and monitor your symptoms to prevent a delay in the recovery and care delivery process.
When it comes to experimental treatment, you should always visit a doctor. Similarly, if you have symptoms that have no proper diagnosis, you should see a doctor. Apart from that, complex treatments such as chemotherapy need the supervision of a doctor specializing in the respective field.
Lastly, if you need a surgical procedure, a primary care physician and surgeon can help you. You cannot see NP for surgical procedures because they cannot perform invasive procedures and surgeries independently.
No profession out of two is better than the other because they each have particular expertise. However, there are times when it is better to visit an NP, and there are times when only a doctor can help you. This article went over some key differences between the two roles, including educational requirements and responsibilities. Eventually, who you decide to see depends on your health condition, symptoms, the kind of treatment you require, and the urgency of the matter.