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Comparing Nurse Practitioner vs Doctor

March 20, 2024

The healthcare sector is integrated by a diversity of professionals who play different roles and serve distinct purposes. There are MDs, RNs, GPs, NPs, and many others. While the meanings of these abbreviations and differences between roles are clear and obvious to those working in healthcare, the layperson may not be. As a result, there could be a lot of confusion about who is who and who does what. This is exactly what happens in the case of nurse practitioners vs doctors.

In this article, we will provide you with all the information you need to differentiate an NP from an MD and to know what roles each of them play in the healthcare sector. We will also fill you in on other healthcare roles like family doctors, doctors of primary care, and physician assistants and how they differ from the roles of nurse practitioners. We also hope to shed light on how much a nurse practitioner earns so you can gain a little more insight and perspective on the position, especially if you're considering working as one.

A surgeon preparing for a scrub in.

‍Defining a Nurse Practitioner

According to the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), Nurse practitioners (NPs) are registered nurses who have higher education and clinical experience, which enable them to autonomously diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, prescribe medications, and perform medical procedures. These healthcare professionals also address needs relating to a person’s physical and mental health, gather medical history, offer ways for a person to lead a healthy life, and teach them how to manage chronic illness. NPs are also educators and researchers who can be consulted by other healthcare team members.

Nurse practitioners are able to achieve a higher level in their practice with an advanced university education that allows them to provide quality health care to patients in a way that other nurses cannot. Their qualifications open up numerous doors for them to offer a wide range of healthcare services to individuals, families, and communities in settings like hospitals and private clinics. In some cases, NPs work with a team of physicians, mental health professionals, pharmacists, and social workers. In other cases, they lead their own practices, overseeing the work of nurses as well.

In Canada, nurse practitioners all belong to the category of regulated professionals who have to meet certain requirements to be able to practice, including getting registered with provincial organizations designated for that purpose. In Ontario, for instance, the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) is the organization that regulates nurse practitioners and other nurses.

Read More: RPN Vs. RN - What Are The Differences?

Defining a Medical Doctor or Physician

Medical doctors (MDs), also called physicians, are healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat diseases and physiological disorders, as well as injuries. They are at the highest level in the medical hierarchy and usually work in hospitals, private practices, and clinics.

Medical doctors can specialize in a wide range of areas, such as cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, general surgery, and many more. However, the most common specialties are primary care and family medicine. These are the doctors who treat clinical problems at an early stage, before making a referral to a specialist in the specific area corresponding to a patient's illness.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), in 2020, there were 92,173 physicians in Canada, which represents 242 physicians per 100,000 population.

What Can a Doctor Do that a Nurse Practitioner Cannot?

Generally, medical doctors or physicians have a deeper knowledge and experience in the healthcare field thanks to their education. On the other hand, nurses have different roles than doctors, but they are still essential for the well-being of patients and for healthcare operations to run smoothly daily. To better understand this, you may refer to the comparison table below:

A table summarizing the differences on the duties and responsibilities of nurse practitioner vs doctor.

Doctors are known to examine patients, order lab tests (including bloodwork, X-rays, and other diagnostic procedures) and evaluate the physical and mental health of patients. Doctors can also prescribe and administer medications and treatments, perform and assist in surgeries and delivering babies, and provide emergency care, acute care, vaccines, and pre-natal and post-natal care. In certain settings, some doctors may also perform administrative jobs like coordinating or managing patient care and even reporting occurrences like births, deaths, and contagious diseases to health authorities.

Meanwhile, nurse practitioners assess, diagnose, treat, and monitor a wide range of health problems, but in complex cases, when things go beyond their knowledge or skill, they must consult and collaborate with physicians and other healthcare professionals. Nurse practitioners are still required to be proficient in the management of chronic disease management and play an important role in health promotion and illness prevention, but their scope is still somewhat limited compared to a medical doctor.

It should be noted that nurse practitioners are known to add value to the Canadian healthcare system by improving people's access to health services, reducing the pressures of the system, and usually have more time to develop close and long-lasting relationships with patients to gain their trust and even involve them in the decisions taken regarding their own care.

If you want to know more about what differentiates nurse practitioners (NPs) from different types of doctors (MDs), let's dig deeper into it:

Nurse Practitioner vs Family Doctor

The CNO explains that nurse practitioners work with other healthcare professionals, like family doctors, but they do not replace them. This means patients who require medical attention should still schedule an appointment with their family doctor as a first step (unless it's an emergency, in which case they should visit an emergency room or call 911), even though later on, during their treatment phase (if an illness was diagnosed), they may follow up with nurse practitioners instead.

Overall, the scope of work of nurse practitioners is not opposite that of family doctors. They actually complement each other as part of collaborative teams that usually include other health professionals like registered nurses (RNs), social workers, and others. To sum it up, refer to the following:

Nurse Practitioner

Family Doctor

Nurse Practitioner vs Doctor for Primary Care

When it comes to primary care, nurse practitioners do provide a wide range of direct care services to people, but medical doctors, or in this case, family doctors, have been the main primary care medical professionals in Canada for many years and are the initial healthcare providers of choice for most people. Family doctors deliver primary care services across the entire spectrum of care, regardless of patient age, sex, or condition. They also employ a diverse range of medical and clinical skills that go beyond those of a nurse practitioner in many cases. Below are the main differences between the two:

Nurse Practitioner

Doctor for Primary Care

Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants have many things in common when it comes to their scope of work; however, they differ in the approaches they take to care for patients.

While NPs prevent and treat certain illnesses and promote healthy living for individuals and their families, they do so using both medical knowledge and nursing skills. PAs, on the other hand, treat patients only with medical knowledge and are always supervised by the physicians they work for while providing care, meaning that their work is more collaboration-oriented and not as independent as that of many NPS.

Nurse Practitioner

Physician Assistant

Nurse Practitioner vs Doctor Salary

Due to differences in experience, education, and overall qualifications, medical doctors make more than nurse practitioners in Canada. NPS makes around 90 to 110 thousand dollars a year, according to multiple sources, while MDs make triple that and even more, depending on their specialty.

For instance, family doctors make 332,000 on average (depending on the province where they offer their services), pediatricians make around 362,000, cardiologists make 532,000, general surgeons make 540,000, and others like neurosurgeons and plastic surgeons make over 600,000 a year across Canada.

It's clear, after looking at the aforementioned numbers, that nurse practitioner vs doctor salary is not a good comparison. What may be a better one is nurse practitioner vs physician assistant salary. In this case, both salaries are very similar, with PAs making anywhere from 85-120 thousand dollars.

Find your dream job as a nurse practitioner or as a doctor at Caring Support.

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About The Author
Kate Piamonte
Content Writer

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