The healthcare system has changed drastically over the last few decades. Patients are more likely to receive care in a different way as a result.
The nurse practitioner fills a significant gap in the healthcare system, especially where primary care is concerned.
There are distinct differences between nurse practitioners and doctors. They have different educational backgrounds. As a result, they approach health, illness, and patient care differently.
When addressing a doctor, we don’t even give it a second thought as to what we call them. It’s common knowledge to address them as “Doctor,” followed by their name.
As nurse practitioners are becoming more common in everyday practice, we may wonder what the appropriate way to address them is.
Do we address them by their name only? By their last name? Or the same way as doctors, but precede their last name with the word “nurse” or “nurse practitioner”?
There are various opinions on this topic, and from what I’ve found and experienced, a lot of it is down to personal preference.
We will first discuss how to address a nurse practitioner. We will examine the similarities and differences between these two types of healthcare professionals later in this article.
How To Address a Nurse Practitioner in Person
A lot of nurse practitioners have their own preference for what they like to be called if they have a preference at all.
Take cues from how they address themselves or introduce themselves to you. Also, take note of how their office staff addresses them when you call for appointments.
The best way to know is to ask them directly.
Ask them how they’d like to be addressed. This way, you know for sure and aren’t disrespecting them.
Some nurse practitioners want to be addressed by their first name, whereas some may find that disrespectful. If they tell you to address them by their first name, then you know that you are not being disrespectful.
If you personally feel that it’s disrespectful to address them by their first name, you can always use the word “nurse” before their name.
How To Address a Nurse Practitioner in an Email
These days it’s not uncommon to communicate with people by email, including a nurse practitioner. In communicating by email, you can’t personalize it to their own preference since you’re unable to ask them directly.
The best way, and general consensus, is to address them by their first and last name, followed by “nurse practitioner.” Or the other way around, nurse practitioner, then their full name.
In terms of addressing a nurse practitioner, one of the most effective ways to do so is by asking them what their preferences are. It is important to determine personal preferences since this will vary from person to person.
An Overview of Nurse Practitioners
Registered nurses with graduate degrees in advanced practice nursing are nurse practitioners (NPs). Nursing graduate degrees include the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
When you complete one of these two degrees and pass the licensing examination, you become a nurse practitioner.
There are various nurse practitioner tracks, which differ in terms of their licensure depending on their specializations and patient populations.
While the scope of nurse practitioners’ practices varies from state to state, they generally possess prescription authority and can collaborate with or practice independently with physicians.
The primary role of a nurse practitioner is to provide patients with everyday care along with preventing and treating illnesses on an ongoing basis.
An Overview of Doctors
In the United States, there are two types of doctors: MDs (Medical Doctors) and DOs (Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine).
Although both of these paths produce a degree that is essentially equivalent, the premise and philosophy behind them are somewhat different.
Once they graduate from medical school, they continue their education through an internship and residency in a specialty.
In addition to providing primary care, doctors are also engaged in a wide range of specialties, including a surgical specialty.
Nurse practitioners and doctors have different training, which results in a different approach to medicine.
Nurse Practitioners and Doctors – Main Similarities
There are several key similarities between doctors and nurse practitioners. A few of them include the ability and authority to:
- Obtain the patient’s medical history
- Assess and evaluate symptoms
- Manage and diagnose illnesses and diseases
Nurse practitioners and doctors also both have prescribing privileges and can provide their patients with diagnostic tests.
Each type of provider develops a treatment plan for their patients, tracks those plans, and refers patients to specialists as needed.
Nurse Practitioners and Doctors – Main Differences
Nurse practitioners and doctors differ greatly in the degree of training they have received. This is one of the most obvious differences between the two.
- Becoming a nurse practitioner begins with an undergraduate nursing degree. That degree includes clinicals and then passing boards to receive licensure as a registered nurse (RN).
- Then, obtain a Master of Science in Nursing degree, which usually takes between two and three years to complete, depending on the program.
Aspiring doctors generally complete an undergraduate science or liberal arts degree. This degree is not nearly as focused as undergraduate nursing degrees.
Students must complete four years of medical school before they can go on to an internship, residency, and sometimes even fellowships.
There are differences in how each career path unfolds:
- Nurse practitioners generally complete a master’s degree unless they later choose to pursue and acquire a doctorate in nursing practice (DNP).
- Doctors start their careers with at least a doctoral degree.
The second key difference is what the practice aims to accomplish. Nurse practitioners are rooted in preventive and holistic treatment, which is a fundamental philosophy of the field.
Patient advocacy and patient-centered care are also very important to the role of a nurse practitioner.
Despite the fact that doctors value their patients equally, their focus is more technical. They diagnose and treat diseases from both a clinical and scientific perspective.
In-Depth Comparison of Nurse Practitioners and Doctors.
Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: What the Roles Are
Registered nurses advance their education in order to specialize further in a specialty area or population. Nurse practitioners can take the knowledge they gained as registered nurses and apply it to a specific population or area.
The primary focuses of nurse practitioners are on long term primary care, disease prevention, holistic health, and patient advocacy.
Routine responsibilities include reviewing the medical histories of patients, ordering lab tests, diagnosing, and prescribing medications to the population of patients they provide care for.
As well as diagnosis and treatment of illness and disease, doctors perform duties that go beyond those of nurse practitioners.
Although there are some primary care doctors, many are trained to interpret complicated health diagnoses and formulate treatment plans that require more specialized training.
Although nurse practitioners are often trained to perform some basic medical procedures, surgeons are required to complete additional, rigorous training after becoming doctors.
Nurse practitioners and doctors have the following main differences:
Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: The Different Specialization Options
Nurse practitioners and doctors have different areas of specialization to choose from. The majority of nurse practitioners specialize in primary care or serve as general hospitalists in acute care facilities.
While they may specialize, they are still restricted to about three to four years of training following the completion of an undergraduate nursing degree.
In most cases, doctors undergo seven to eleven years of intense training and education when they specialize. Doctors also specialize in more specific areas than nurse practitioners.
Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: The Educational Requirements
Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who provide care for patients at a higher level than registered nurses.
Registered nurses must obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) before obtaining their license.
As soon as the undergraduate degree is completed, the student must obtain a graduate degree in nursing (MSN or DNP), which will prepare them to take the nurse practitioner licensing exam in the specialty of their choice.
Obtaining an undergraduate degree is the first step toward becoming a doctor. Additionally, they need to complete any prerequisite courses that weren’t included in their degree and take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), the entrance exam to medical school.
It is then necessary to complete medical school, an internship, and a residency program. Doctors may complete additional fellowships as part of their education.
Through fellowships, they can immerse themselves even more deeply into a certain area of study, gaining even more specialized knowledge.
Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: How Much Time it Takes
Depending on the type of degree program—traditional or accelerated—the time it takes for a registered nurse to become a nurse practitioner can vary.
A registered nurse’s method of obtaining a license is also an important variable to consider. The entire education process will generally take six to seven years.
The undergraduate nursing degree program consists of approximately four years of study to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, followed by about two years of study to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).
Through the use of accelerated programs or studying part-time instead of full-time, this process can be sped up or slowed down.
Some states require a DNP for a nurse practitioner license, which adds an additional three to four years of schooling, making the total education commitment ten to eleven years.
The educational commitment for doctors is substantial and can easily take more than a decade to complete. Undergraduate studies require four years, medical school requires four years, and an internship requires one year.
After that, the doctor must complete a residency program, which usually lasts from three to seven years, depending on the specialty they choose.
A person planning to become a doctor must expect to spend a minimum of twelve to sixteen years total in education and training.
Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: The Cost of Education
Several factors affect the cost of an education for a master’s degree in nursing and nurse practitioner licensing. One of the key factors is the type of college or university one attends and the type of nursing program chosen.
For the most part, attending a public school in-state is the least expensive choice. It is common for private or religious schools to charge thousands of dollars more for the same degree.
The education of a nurse practitioner will include an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree, and possibly even a doctorate.
Education for a nurse practitioner can cost between $20,000 and $60,000 at the low end and over $100,000 at the high end.
In addition to the cost of undergraduate studies and medical school, there are other miscellaneous fees associated with becoming a doctor.
Depending on whether or not students are state residents, as well as the quality of the program, tuition for undergraduate and medical school programs will differ.
In total, doctor’s education costs may range anywhere between almost $200,000 and more than $450,000.
Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: Coursework Requirements
A nursing program at the undergraduate level offers generalized nursing courses. Courses such as pathophysiology, pharmacology, adult care, pediatric care, etc., are included. Classes related to ethics, leadership, and morals are also offered.
While the courses taken for a master’s degree will have some core concepts, the majority of classes will be tailored to the population the student wishes to serve. During the doctorate program, this specialized approach becomes even more focused.
Undergraduate degrees that pre-med students can pursue are varied. However, medical school programs are generally similar from one school to another.
During the first two years of medical school, students learn both in didactic and laboratory settings.
The coursework typically consists of anatomy, biology, pharmacology, and patient assessment. Students rotate through specialty departments in hospitals during their third and fourth years of medical school.
After graduating from medical school, students will begin their residency training in their chosen field. There is an emphasis on working with more experienced doctors and learning from them during residencies rather than coursework.
Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: Clinical Experience
Nurse practitioners must complete a minimum of five hundred direct and supervised patient care hours before they can sit for the state’s licensing exam.
To achieve the competencies being emphasized in the program track, students may split their hours in different ways and among different populations.
In some cases, some students may complete additional clinical hours or simulation training above and beyond the minimum requirement of the course.
The amount of clinical experience that doctors have during school is what makes them different from nurse practitioners.
A student in medical school rotates through the hospital and outpatient clinics for two full years. They will gain more clinical experience throughout their residency over the next three to seven years.
Before they are able to practice independently, doctors have thousands of hours behind them during their clinical training.
Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: Certification and Licensure Requirements
Those who wish to become nurse practitioners are required to hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing as well as an unencumbered license to practice nursing.
In order to be licensed as a nurse practitioner, they must complete the Master of Science in Nursing degree program and pass the accredited nurse practitioner board examinations. Additionally, there are post-graduate programs.
Through them, nurses can specialize further and become certified in specific fields. Individual states grant nurse practitioner licenses, while specialized credentialing boards grant specialized certifications.
Doctors are required to take medical board exams, which are referred to as USMLEs, throughout medical school. Several phases of these exams are administered across several years.
The final phase occurs when students graduate from medical school after they have earned their doctorate degree. Step one of USMLEs is done upon completion of the second year of medical school.
Students are tested on basic health services, aging, nutrition, etc. Step two is generally during the fourth year of medical school.
At that time, clinical knowledge and skills are tested. Step three is typically taken after one year of residency. This is done to determine whether or not a student is ready to practice unsupervised as a doctor.
As a way to demonstrate to their clients their advanced level of expertise and proficiency in their specific field of medicine, many doctors choose to become board certified in their specific area of medicine.
Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: The Scope of Practice
Doctors and nurse practitioners operate in very different ways according to their state’s regulations. In light of the increasing importance of nurse practitioners to fill a huge healthcare void, state regulations continue to change.
There are certain states where nurse practitioners have a very wide range of prescribing power, while in others, there are varying levels of restrictions.
In general, nurse practitioners must adhere to the standards of nursing and be held accountable to their state licensing boards.
A nurse practitioner’s practice consists of diagnosing and treating illnesses, educating and counseling patients, discussing the issues with patients, advocating for them, and conducting research.
They can provide these services in many different healthcare settings.
The primary objective of nurse practitioners, however, is to meet the needs of each patient, family, or population they serve.
Unlike nurse practitioners and physician assistants, a doctor’s scope of practice isn’t defined. Rather, state medical laws determine how doctors practice medicine.
Instead of defining scope, doctors’ duties and privileges are dictated by hospitals, medical organizations, and specialties, as well as state and federal laws. The duties of a medical doctor generally extend to everything that falls under the area of medicine.
Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: Where They Work
In the field of nursing, nurse practitioners are employed in a huge range of settings. A wide variety of settings serve a wide range of needs, from hospitals to acute care facilities to outpatient clinics, schools, and private corporations.
As nurse practitioners are able to work in collaborative teams, they are highly valued in almost every field of healthcare where patient-centered care is paramount.
There are also many different types of settings where doctors practice. While some work in doctor’s offices and private practices, others work in hospitals as generalists.
Doctors visit both clinics and hospitals, spending time with patients both in the hospital and in outpatient settings. In some cases, doctors devote more time to clinical research than to patient care.
As well as working in the medical field, doctors can also be found in government jobs and in roles relating to healthcare.
Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: Future Prospects
While the job outlook for nurse practitioners varies by location, it is still very good across the country.
Considering the fact that nurse practitioners fill one of the largest gaps in health care and take less time to train than doctors, they are in high demand.
There is a decline in the number of people going to medical school more than ever before due to its high cost and substantial time commitment.
The rising number of elderly people and advancements in healthcare has led to a growing need for medical attention and care.
In addition to this, there are an increasing number of older doctors who are planning to retire or are in the process of retiring. There is a great demand to fill those positions.
As we can see, there are a number of similarities and differences between nurse practitioners and doctors. We know how to address a doctor without having to ask them.
When addressing nurse practitioners, however, we need to add an additional step. Ask them.
This helps lay the foundation for the more one on one personal relationship one has with their nurse practitioner. There is no one general way to address them, and that’s fine.
That’s one of the many personable ways that sets them apart from doctors. Strike up a conversation with them and ask them. You may be surprised they want to be called by their first name. You will never know if you don’t ask.
Written by Joanne Potter
Joanne, BSN and RN, is a writer that specializes in health and wellness. She has fifteen years of experience as a Registered Nurse in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Her years working at the bedside and extensive neonatal knowledge enable her to write with a deep understanding of what patients and families want from their communities. Visit her LinkedIn page.