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Is a Nurse Practitioner as Good as a Doctor?

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Nurse practitioners’ significance has gained traction in the healthcare industry in the last few decades. Nurse practitioners or NPs were hired to fill in a severe shortage created by the absence of qualified doctors. A nurse practitioner has a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing and is governed by different regulators unlike a doctor in medicine or an MD or doctor in osteopathy or DO. 

If one is wondering how to become a nurse practitioner, then it makes sense to understand the role they play in the healthcare industry. An NP plays a role above a registered nurse or RN but their role in clinical care is not as comprehensive as that of a doctor. Nonetheless, they are important in clinics, emergency rooms, and hospitals alike. 

Data gathered from independent studies show that the patients who receive care from a Nurse Practitioner are satisfied and are more unlikely to revisit an emergency room or clinic for the same ailment or reason. The underlying reason for a high rate of patient satisfaction among those who are tended to by a nurse practitioner can be attributed to the holistic approach with which they provide patient care that is safe and equitable to that of a physician. 

Although Nurse practitioners are more compassionate and healing when dealing with patients, there are instances when a patient’s case has to be referred to a doctor. Comparing a nurse practitioner with a doctor is like comparing apples to peaches. To understand if a nurse practitioner is as good a doctor, let us understand the similarities and differences between the two professions: –

Education

A Nurse Practitioner spends six years in school earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Registered nurses or RN with a bachelor (BSN) study to become nurse practitioners. Some nurse practitioner courses allow an associate diploma RN holder to complete an accelerated bachelor’s and master’s program in nursing. In addition to earning their master’s or doctoral degree, a nurse practitioner has to get a national certificate and qualify state license through the respective board. 

A doctor of medicine-MD or doctor is osteopathy-DO, will spend close to eleven years after high school, of which the first three are spent earning a bachelor’s in a science discipline. Post undergrad school and after clearing the MCAT, they spend four years studying medicine in a med school. During med school, they also write grueling USMLE exams and clear them as per the sequence of the steps. They spend another four years as resident doctors working in their specialty in a hospital or an emergency room. 

Core competencies

Nurse practitioners have a patient-oriented approach and can order lab tests for a patient, prescribe medicines, and refer complicated cases to the right doctor. They educate their patients and teach them methods to help prevent diseases. For example in the recent pandemic, nurse practitioners played a pivotal role in educating the patients about the covid protocol for disease prevention and the spread of the virus.  

A doctor on the other hand has a disease or symptom-oriented approach and concentrates on devising a treatment plan. They perform complicated surgeries, attend medical conferences, and supervise residents. 

However, both a nurse practitioner and a doctor can diagnose illness, treat common injuries, and educate patients on preventive care and a healthy lifestyle. To offer safe patient care, they routinely order tests and prescribe medicines. A nurse practitioner can freely practice in 22 states whereas a doctor with a valid license can practice anywhere in the country. 

Accessibility

The waiting period for a patient to see a nurse practitioner is often less than that for a doctor.  As per various studies, it has been found that patient satisfaction rate was higher when they met a nurse practitioner. The amount of time spent in consultation with a nurse practitioner is more as they spend quality time asking more probing questions related to the patient’s examination. This study also recommends increasing the number of nurse practitioners in primary care for better quality care and content patients. 

Patients find it easier to see a nurse practitioner as opposed to a doctor and are recommended to wait for one only in case of complex or unclear diagnoses which may need their expertise. The amount spent on seeing an NP is similar to that of a doctor but as the waiting period is less, they are increasingly opting to see a nurse practitioner. 

Scope of professional advice

A nurse practitioner’s license requirements are not the same for all the fifty states of the United States of America. Twenty-two states allow a nurse practitioner to handle patient care without the supervision of a doctor. 

Some states allow a nurse practitioner to practice only under supervision and in agreement with a doctor who is in charge. The clauses of the agreement can vary between different facilities and supervisors. This effectively does not mean that every nurse practitioner in such restrictive license states has to report every case to a supervisor. The supervisor in this case oversees the nurse practitioners on a need basis as per the requirements drawn up by the healthcare facility’s standards of practice.  A doctor on the other hand is free to practice medicine in all of the fifty states without any state restrictions. 

Asking if a nurse practitioner is as good as a doctor is a complex question and is not a close-ended one with a simple yes or no answer. The amount of time and money spent by individuals who seek either of the professions are different, and the scope of their training is different. Their licensing requirements are not the same with one profession facing restrictions in some states and others being liberal. The career prospects and salary offered varies for the profession, where doctors get better packages than nurse practitioners.

Nevertheless, ever since 1965 when the role of nurse practitioners has been accepted in the healthcare industry, they have become indispensable assets even to the doctors with whom their profession is always compared. In short, a nurse practitioner complements the role of a physician.

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