What Is the Difference Between A Physician and A Nurse Practitioner?

Difference Physician Nurse Practitioner

 There is an increased focus on nurse practitioners in the healthcare system in America. They are seen as a way to ease the burden on physicians and allow patients to access primary healthcare much more quickly and easily. Read out  what Is the Difference Between A Physician and A Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners carry out a lot of the same tasks as physicians, but their roles are not exactly the same, and their approach to healthcare is often quite different. Read on to know more about the difference between a physician and a nurse practitioner.

What is a physician?

A physician is a general term commonly used for a doctor who has a medical degree. 

Their primary role is patient care, working to improve or maintain their patients’ health as much as possible.

Physicians often specialize in a specific branch of medicine and will have trained extensively in that field. They also have a responsibility to continue their education throughout their career to ensure that they have the most up-to-date knowledge to help their patients.

The type of physician that you will generally see in the first instance when you have a health problem is a primary care physician. Their role is to assess patients who come to them with an illness or injury and then utilize medical tests to ascertain the issue’s root cause. The physician will then recommend a course of treatment to the patient, which may take the form of medication or referral on to another medical specialist; for example, they might refer them on for surgery.

When talking about the overlap between physicians and nurse practitioners, it is often in primary care where there are the most similarities between the two roles.

What is a nurse practitioner?

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has completed additional training and specialized in a particular field of medicine. Nurse practitioners who work in primary care will have specialized in family medicine.

See also  How to Pass a Oral Drug Test for Drinking?

Like primary care physicians, family nurse practitioners assess patients who come to them with an illness or injury and can order medical tests to investigate the issue further, and they can recommend courses of treatment like medication or referral to another medical specialist.

They often do a lot of work in the community around education and the promotion of good health. If you were to seek out medical assistance in a more rural area, it is likely that you would see a nurse practitioner rather than a physician. 

Differences between nurse practitioners and physicians

The main difference between nurse practitioners and physicians is the level of education. While nurse practitioners train at the postgraduate level in a nurse practitioner program for between two and four years, physicians typically train for up to eleven years. While nurse practitioners have extensive training, which allows them to provide excellent care, many physicians become specialists in a specific field.

Another difference is in the level of autonomy. In some states, nurse practitioners have to work under a physician’s supervision, which means they will have to get a sign-off before authorizing certain things. In some states, nurse practitioners can work with autonomy, however. Physicians always have complete autonomy over patient care.

As you might expect, there is also a significant difference in physicians’ salary level for nurse practitioners and physicians. For both professions, salaries will vary depending on the institution that they work in, and the area of the country.

Level of training

Doctors typically train for eleven years at the postgraduate level. 

To begin their medical training aspiring doctors must have an undergraduate degree, usually in a science-related subject. Once they have their undergraduate degree, they can take their medical school admission test, the MCAT.

The medical school itself takes around four years to complete. Once medical school is complete, medical students apply for their residential training. This means working in a teaching hospital under the supervision of a qualified physician. Residential training must be accredited by the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education. The length of time for residential training depends on the specialism that is chosen.

See also  Navigating Mental Health: Understanding Your Options for Therapy and Support

Once training is complete, physicians must be licensed by their state, and they must continue their education once they are working to maintain their license.

Nurse practitioners typically train for between two and four years at the postgraduate level.

To begin nurse practitioner training, you must first be a registered nurse. This requires an undergraduate degree, either a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) or an ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing). The industry is moving towards BSN as the standard, so to undertake postgraduate qualifications, you may need to take a conversion course if you have an ADN.

Registered nurses can then apply to study either an MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) or a DSN (Doctor of Science in Nursing). Once your study is complete, you can apply for licensure by your state, and like with physicians, this license will need to be renewed periodically.


In some states, nurse practitioners have complete autonomy, meaning that they can make care decisions about their patients and prescribe medication. 

In states where nurse practitioners have the autonomy, they can take a lot more of the strain from physicians, which helps address the physician shortage. This autonomy also allows nurse practitioners greater career satisfaction and the option of opening their own private practice.

One of the states where nurse practitioners are allowed to practice with full authority in Florida. You can read more about what it is like to be a nurse practitioner in Florida here.

Approach and access

One of the main differences that people notice between nurse practitioners and physicians in their approach.

Nurse practitioners take a much more patient-centric, holistic approach. A lot of their focus is on educating their patients and providing them with advice that helps them to lead a healthier life.

By contrast, physicians come from a highly technical medical background, so this will be their approach.


The average median salary for a nurse practitioner is $110,000 per year, depending on their specialty and where in the country they are working.

For physicians, the average median salary is $208,000 per year.