Lisa Conway – Hometown News

Q: How are nurse practitioners different from doctors?

A:  If you have been to a doctor’s office lately, chances are you didn’t see a doctor at all — but a nurse practitioner. The US is facing a shortage of doctors, particularly in primary care. As a result, many hospitals, private clinics and even urgent care clinics are relying on nurse practitioners to fill needed positions.

Although nurse practitioners and doctors often work side-by-side to deliver similar types of healthcare (to a variety of patients), the two professions are different and often have a different philosophical focus.  Doctors at their core are typically scientists, formally trained in diagnosing and treating diseases. Nurse practitioners are typically trained in caring for patients by way of diagnosing and treating many common ailments– along with basic disease prevention, coordination of care, and health promotion. Doctors study in medical school.  Nurse practitioners receive their degree in nursing, as opposed to medicine.

There are additional differences in education and time spent in training. After obtaining their undergraduate degrees, the educational tracks for nurse practitioners and doctors continue to diverge. Nurse practitioners receive a graduate degree (typically a master’s or doctorate in nursing) after an average of two to five years of study. Doctors will receive a graduate degree typically in a four-year professional doctoral program. Nurse practitioners are required to have practicum hours (supervised practical application of their skills) based on the varying requirements of the school, while the doctor is usually required to complete a three-year residency program in a hospital or clinic. Residencies can be as long as eight to ten years, depending on specialty.

Make no mistake: Nurse practitioners and doctors are both highly trained professionals. As demand for medical personnel continues to increase, both may be considered as good options for many of your healthcare needs.  Questions?  You can always call Nurse Lisa at One Senior Place in Viera at 321-751-6771.


One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging at OneSeniorPlace.comLisa Conway is a Registered Nurse and a Certified Care Manager for Senior Partner Care Services, Viera.