Invariably, as the seasons change, someone in your family will become ill and need the care of a medical professional. Depending on the area in which you live, you may be faced with a choice: visit the doctor or see a nurse practitioner. We all know what a doctor is, and what they can do, but many people become confused when it comes to nurse practitioners.
Perhaps the easiest way to understand what a nurse practitioner is, and does, is to understand how they differ from a doctor. Here are some facts you should know when it comes to choosing a nurse practitioner versus a doctor:
A nurse practitioner is a nurse who has gone on to earn his or her master’s degree and has specialized in an area of the field. For instance, you may find a nurse practitioner who has concentrated in pediatrics, obstetrics or even geriatric medicine.
A doctor, on the other hand, must attend eight years of school and then continue training after they earn their doctorate for a specific amount of time, depending on their specialty. Just remember, it’s experience that counts; not how many years of college or university your health care provider sat through.
2. Style of Care
Nurse practitioners have gone through nursing school, where the concentration is on a more holistic and caring approach to making people well. Doctors are often more focused on the diagnosis and treatment of a disease, rather than a patient’s feelings and background.
For nurse practitioners, care is often more about the whole person rather than simply treating a singular disease. For instance, if you visit a nurse practitioner to treat your high blood pressure, you may be asked about your life, and find help in fixing the issues that are causing your blood pressure to soar. A doctor, on the other hand, may simply give you a pill and a list of foods to avoid.
Generally, you will find both nurse practitioners and doctors at both ends of the care-giving spectrum, however, the nursing profession tends to be the more caring and sensitive of the two.
Many people are under the mistaken impression that a nurse practitioner works under, or for, a doctor. Though the abilities of a nurse practitioner can vary by state, in general, a nurse practitioner can do everything a family physician can do: diagnose and treat illness, refer you to a specialist and prescribe medications. Some states restrict nurse practitioners from prescribing controlled substances, and other states require that a nurse practitioner works in agreement with a physician. You will need to research the laws of your state to understand what a nurse practitioner can do for you and your family.
Because nurse practitioners make, on average, between $50,000 and $70,000 less than a doctor per year, they are often a more affordable source of care. Don’t mistake this lack of compensation for a lack of knowledge or experience! As nurse practitioners become more widely utilized, their salaries are expected to climb to match their worth.
When you are vetting your doctor, be sure to also check into the background of any nurse practitioners in the office as well. Chances are, if you are visiting the doctor for a minor illness, you’ll be seeing a nurse practitioner instead. By knowing the background of your NP, and the laws in your state, you’ll feel more comfortable with your choice of medical professional.
Nicole Morgan is a career counselor, and blogs for nursepractitionerprogramguides.org where you can find information about nurse practitioner programs online.