Is A Nurse Practitioner A Doctor?

A nurse practitioner is not a medical doctor. Instead, they are advanced practice registered nurses.

These healthcare professionals have an MSN or DNP degree and domain-specific board certification.

The DNP is a doctor of nursing practice degree.

It enables nurse practitioners to pursue leadership, management, and academic careers.

Nurse practitioners with an MSN or DNP can perform a broad range of duties.

It includes diagnosing patient conditions, prescribing medications,  and acting as primary care providers.

Nurse practitioners can even own and operate healthcare offices independently in full-practice states.

Nevertheless, a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree should not be confused with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree.

Nurse practitioners and physicians perform many of the same duties regarding patient care.

However, there are several significant differences between the two healthcare disciplines and their level of care.

Academic Distinctions 

One primary difference between nurse practitioners and physicians is their educational background.

A nurse practitioner’s education focuses on a patient-centered care model centered on health education and disease prevention.

These healthcare experts focus on educating patients about their health and medical conditions.

They also provide them with ways to prevent possible diseases from occurring or worsening.

Nurse practitioners learn how to assess, diagnose, monitor, and treat their patient’s conditions.

They typically specialize in a particular area of healthcare to accommodate patients with distinct needs.

For instance, some nurse practitioners specialize in neonatal care to provide medical aid to infants.

Other nurse practitioners focus on women’s health to assist women and mothers throughout their and their children’s lives.

Seven Types of Nurse Practitioners:

  1. Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  2. Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Practitioner
  3. Family Nurse Practitioner
  4. Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
  5. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
  6. Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  7. Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners

A physician’s education concentrates on a disease-centered model.

As a result, they focus on assessing and treating various diseases, injuries, and physical and mental ailments.

A physician’s background emphasizes the biological and pathological components of physical and psychological patient health.

Physicians assess, diagnose, monitor, and treat their patient’s conditions at the highest levels.

Depending on the patient care they want to pursue, there are various physician specializations.

For instance, they may open independent practices, work in emergency care, specialize in neurology, or become surgeons.

Seven Types of Physicians:

  1. Anesthesiologists
  2. Emergency physicians
  3. Gynecologists
  4. Neurologists
  5. Pediatricians
  6. Psychiatrists
  7. Radiologiges

Physicians typically follow a more medicine-focused approach, while nurse practitioners pursue a holistic approach.

What Can Nurse Practitioners Do?

At the highest level of care, nurse practitioners can perform many of a physician’s or MD’s duties.

It includes acting as a primary care provider, diagnosing conditions, and interpreting test results.

Nurse practitioners also review medical histories, write prescriptions, design rehabilitation programs, and perform exams.

As previously mentioned, nurse practitioners may specialize in a particular healthcare field.

It includes neonatal care, adult care, neurology, gastroenterology, women’s health, emergency care, and other domains.

With that said, nurse practitioners must provide care within their scope of practice. 

For instance, neonatal care nurse practitioners cannot provide care to geriatric patients without proper education and certification.

Those who want to practice in other specializations can become certified in different domains to expand their care.

Depending on a nurse practitioner’s state, they may be required to work alongside a supervising physician.

However, these limitations mainly occur in reduced practice or restricted practice states.

Review the State Practice Environment page to learn more about a nurse practitioner’s scope of practice in different states.

The demand for highly qualified nurse practitioners continues to rise as more individuals require healthcare services.

In addition, the need for affordable medical care increases, making it more challenging to cover expensive medical costs.

The demand for affordable healthcare services has led some states to allow nurse practitioners to operate independently.

Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor in Primary Care

Nurse practitioners diagnose conditions, write prescriptions, develop treatment plans and act as primary care providers.

Nevertheless, a nurse practitioner’s scope of practice isn’t as extensive as medical doctors.

A nurse practitioner can treat many common medical conditions and health issues.

However, they cannot diagnose or treat complex, rare, and difficult-to-detect conditions outside their scope of practice.

Medical doctors receive extensive training in medicine and follow a disease-centered education model.

As a result, they can better understand, diagnose and manage complex conditions due to their comprehensive knowledge.

In primary care, patients can receive care from a nurse practitioner or doctor for common medical/health conditions.

Those with complex or extensive conditions may need care from a medical doctor due to their expertise and specialization.

Sometimes a patient goes to a nurse practitioner for primary care but is redirected to a doctor when a disease is complex.

In this case, a nurse practitioner may refer patients to their collaborating physician when medically necessary.

Nurse practitioners must ensure their referral is strictly for the patient’s benefit and not in exchange for any concessions.

A patient may also prefer to see a doctor instead of a nurse practitioner for conditions that require advanced specialization.

Nurse practitioners play an extensive role in patient care and significantly improve healthcare for many patients.

However, there are times when patients must seek a physician, medical doctor, or DO’s medical care and expertise.

Additional Resources:

Surgical Procedures

Not all medical doctors perform surgical procedures, but some can if it’s within their specialization and scope of practice.

Nurse practitioners only perform some minor procedures that are much less complex than medical doctors.

For instance, they may suture wounds, assist surgeons with procedures and perform numerous operating room tasks.

However, they cannot perform more complex surgical assignments and act under the surgeon’s guidance.

Additional Resources:

Doctor/Physician Oversight

There are numerous situations when a medical doctor/physician provides oversight or supervision to nurse practitioners.

For instance, many hospitals hire multiple nurse practitioners that receive oversight from their physicians.

It provides a system of checks and balances to keep the facilities operating effectively and creates a leadership structure.

It also enables the physician to make the final judgment on patient-related diagnoses, medical conditions, and treatments.

Doctors can make a different assessment, diagnosis, or treatment from an NP if they understand the patient’s needs better.

Of course, close collaboration and cooperation are essential for ensuring patients receive optimal medical care.

However, medical doctors/physicians make the final decision in many cases.

Some nurse practitioners lead less stressful lives than doctors because they are not responsible for making the final decision.

They do not have to take work home or deliberate as extensively on diagnose and treatments.

They also have fewer on-call concerns because doctors are relied upon more often for complex conditions and emergencies.

In primary care, some states require nurse practitioners to collaborate with medical doctors even if they own their practices.

Full-practice states often provide nurse practitioners with more flexibility and independence for patient-focused medical care.

In these states, nurse practitioners diagnose and treat patients, prescribe medications, and work without a physician’s oversite.

Reduced-practice states frequently restrict a nurse practitioner’s scope of practice and clinical liberties.

In these states, nurse practitioners may require a physician to oversee or sign off specific procedures or treatments.

They may also require nurse practitioners to collaborate with physicians if they want to run a clinical office.

A nurse practitioner may need to be part of the medical practice rather than independently owning their practice.

Restricted practice states require nurse practitioners to work under a doctor’s supervision for their entire scope of practice.

It includes diagnosing patients, prescribing medications, and developing and administering treatment.

Nurse practitioners can perform a broad range of responsibilities in these states.

Nevertheless, they require more extensive oversite and management in reduced practice and restricted states. 

The Growing Debate

A national physician groups and nursing associations debate is growing regarding the nurse practitioner’s role and title.

Several physicians feel that nurse practitioners’ role is essential within the physician group.

However, they also feel that nurse practitioners should continue to work under a primary physician’s supervision.

On the other hand, many nurse practitioners feel they should provide primary care without assisting a physician or MD.

Nurse practitioners perform many of the same duties as physicians, whether or not they’re present.

That said, there are numerous rare and complex diseases only a physician can assess and treat.

Some physicians feel that nurse practitioners should operate independently to meet the economy’s growing demands.

Others believe they should play a more supportive role in healthcare.

Nevertheless, the demand for qualified nurse practitioners continues to grow as the shortage of available physicians expands.

Nurse practitioners help fill the gap of highly trained specialists who can provide primary care to millions of people.

Healthcare costs, the demands for adequate patient care, and the increasing need for community education are all factors that increase the demand for nurse practitioners.

Ultimately, what truly matters is that patients receive the care they need from those with adequate training in their field.

Adequate medical care is necessary to ensure patients are happy and comfortable with their medical care.

Patients can often decide where to receive their care and who they want to be their primary care providers.

It’s up to the physicians and nurse practitioners to find a happy balance that focuses on patient care and the healthcare system.

Maximizing the opportunities for excellent healthcare for all patients within the communities they serve is necessary.

Can I See a Nurse Practitioner Instead of a Doctor?

Yes, patients can see a nurse practitioner instead of a doctor for common and non-complex medical conditions.

These healthcare specialists do an excellent job of diagnosing, treating, and prescribing medications for common ailments.

In full-practice states, nurse practitioners work independently and operate self-owned practices as primary care providers.

It enables them to bring affordable healthcare to a broader range of patients, especially in underserved areas.

Nevertheless, patients requiring more extensive expertise and care may need a doctor/physician for complex conditions.

These healthcare experts can assess, diagnose and treat complex and rare medical conditions that other specialists cannot.

If a nurse practitioner cannot successfully diagnose or treat a condition, they may refer the patient to a specialized doctor.

Nurse practitioners in reduced and restricted practice states have less autonomy and freedom with their scope of practice.

As a result, they have less flexibility to operate independently as primary care providers.

Those in restricted practice states have the most constraints regarding primary care, especially without supervision or oversite.

However, some reduced and restricted practice states are lifting their constraints to give nurse practitioners more autonomy.

Can a Nurse Practitioner Refer a Patient?

Nurse practitioners can refer patients to doctors in full-practice states and locations that provide that autonomy.

Nevertheless, they must not refer patients in exchange for incentives or benefits.

A referral must be exclusively for the patient’s medical, psychological, and physiological benefits and well-being.

In addition, nurse practitioners must refer patients to a doctor/physician with extensive training and expertise in their domain.

Referring a patient to a physician/doctor because they’re friends isn’t satisfactory if they can receive better care elsewhere.

In reduced or restricted states, nurse practitioners may refer patients to the supervising physician if it’s their responsibility.

Are Nurse Practitioners Called Doctors?

A nurse practitioner who completes a doctoral program obtains a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree.

It enables these healthcare professionals to operate at the highest levels of nursing practice.

Nurse practitioners and APRNs with a doctorate work in high-level leadership, management, and academic positions.

Nevertheless, despite their extensive education, they cannot refer to themselves as medical doctors or physicians.

Nurse practitioners and medical doctors receive different schooling, training, and specialization.

The formal title of “doctor” is given to physicians with comprehensive medical school education, training, and licensure.

The title “Doctor” also enables patients to quickly distinguish various skill levels, academic backgrounds, and disciplines.

Medical doctors indicate concerns about the title of doctor among those without a medical degree, as it may confuse patients. 

Some states also made it a felony for nurse practitioners and non-medical doctorate holders to refer to themselves as doctors.

In short, a nurse practitioner can be a doctor of nursing practice.

However, they cannot have their patients call them medical doctors or physicians.

Most states restrict how nurse practitioners use the title in professional settings.

According to Texas Nurse Practitioners, doctorate holders may use their academic title as a professional identification.

For instance, a nurse practitioner with a doctorate may use Jane Smith, DNP, APRN, FP-C” on their business card.

It enables them to demonstrate their educational background and expertise to patients without confusing them.