Q:  How is a nurse practitioner different from a doctor?

A: Nurse practitioners– we are hearing more and more about them every day!  If you have been to a doctor’s office lately, chances are you did not see a doctor at all — but were instead seen by a nurse practitioner.  Many doctors’ offices are hiring nurse practitioners to keep up with the rising demand for healthcare in America. The US is facing a shortage of doctors, particularly in primary care. Due to these shortages, 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.

Doctors and nurse practitioners often have a different philosophical focus.  Doctors at their core are typically scientists. They are formally trained in diagnosing and treating diseases, whereas 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.

As far as education and time spent in training, there are additional differences in the professions. A nurse practitioner usually will have an undergraduate degree in nursing.  A doctor will typically have a bachelor’s (undergraduate degree) in some type of science or medically related field.

Each profession must take an entrance exam to further their education. The nurse practitioner will take the NCLEX-RN or National Council Licensure exam for RNs and the doctor will take the MCAT or the Medical College Admission Test.

A nurse practitioner will receive a graduate degree (typically a master’s or doctorate in nursing) after an average of two to five years of study.  The doctor 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.


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, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging.

Lisa Conway is a Registered Nurse and a Certified Care Manager for Senior Partner Care Services, Viera.