physician vs. family nurse practitioner

What is the Difference Between a Primary Care Doctor and Family Nurse Practitioner?

Do you have a passion for the sciences, and a strong desire to help those in need? Both Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) and Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) spend their days helping patients and administering treatment to those in need.

If you possess these traits and have a passion for healthcare, you might be asking yourself, “Should I become a Doctor or a Nurse Practitioner?” In this guide, we will help you understand the critical differences between becoming a Nurse Practitioner versus a Physician, and what is the best career choice for your life plan, schedule, and goals.

Differences Between a Doctor and a Family Nurse Practitioner

Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) are licensed clinicians who provide family focused health care services to people of all ages. They may work in hospitals, universities, private practices, or any setting that requires primary patient care.

As Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), FNPs are often responsible for:

  • Performing physical exams
  • Observing and recording patients’ symptoms
  • Ordering diagnostic tests
  • Operating medical equipment
  • Diagnosing patient conditions
  • Developing treatment plans
  • Prescribing medications
  • Educating patients (and their families) about preventive healthcare
  • Consulting other members of the medical team

While an aspiring Doctor has to undergo at least 10 years of training to complete their degree, a Nurse Practitioner’s training is significantly less time intensive. Family Nurse Practitioners need a master’s degree, which can take anywhere from 2-4 years to complete. The field also has a growing job market and salaries that can help you live the life you want to live. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for a Nurse Practitioner in May 2020 was $75,330.

Doctors (MDs) are licensed clinicians who are experienced at treating patients to restore and maintain their mental and physical health. There are many specialties that Doctors can pursue, including areas like Orthodontics, Surgery, or OB/GYN.

Some responsibilities that Doctors have are:

  • Conducting physical exams
  • Performing procedures as needed
  • Reading and interpreting lab results to detect abnormalities
  • Recommending and implementing a care plan
  • Prescribing medication
  • Addressing patients’ concerns and educating patients and family members
  • Working closely with Nurses, EMTs, surgeons, and fellow healthcare workers to ensure a patient gets the best possible care

Due to the scope of their work and level of licensure, Doctors have to complete medical school, a residency, and potentially a fellowship in a specialty area, taking years to complete. Doctors, however, are among the highest paid of occupations as reported by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, earning an average of $208,000 annually.

FNP vs. Doctor: Differing Responsibilities

In 22 states (including Connecticut), FNPs have full authority over patients’ health issues, including being able to diagnose, treat, and oversee patient cases. In the remaining states, FNPs have more limited practice authority and need a Doctor to sign off on decisions. Most people do not realize that Nurse Practitioners have a lot of the same responsibilities that Doctors do, but it also depends on the state in which you’re practicing. It is clear from this data that FNPs can serve as primary care providers and have similar responsibilities to MDs.

Some of an FNP’s other responsibilities include working with specialists, managing chronic conditions, and working with children and babies. FNPs can also obtain additional certificates in areas like women’s health or emergency medicine.

What Exact Training Do You Need to Become a Doctor vs. Nurse Practitioner?

Becoming a Doctor and becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner both require very specific training, which vary in terms of length.

To become an FNP, you must:

  • Complete a BSN – Earning a Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN) is a great head start to achieve your nursing goals, but the minimum requirement for initiating your Nurse Practitioner career is completing a bachelor’s degree.
  • Pass a NCLEX-RN examination – This exam is required to become a licensed Registered Nurse (RN). To become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse like an FNP, however, this is a steppingstone. After completing this exam, it’s recommended nurses finish two or more years of clinical practice before applying to a master’s program.
  • Earn a Master’s Degree (2-4 years) – A master’s program gives you the hands-on training needed to get ready for your career as a NP. If you are hoping to become a Family Nurse Practitioner, you should find a dedicated FNP degree program that will prepare you for the work of primary care.
  • Take the National Certification Exam – You must successfully pass the national certification board examination to become licensed as a Nurse Practitioner. You may become certified nationally in a specialization, such as family practice.

To become a Doctor, you must:

  • Earn a Bachelor’s Degree – Typically, this will also contain pre-med classes, which consist of rigorous science courses.
  • Pass the MCATS exam – Candidates will need to pass this test to qualify for medical school. Higher grades will help acceptance rates at more competitive programs.
  • Attend four years of medical school – Medical school teaches the basics of what it takes to be a Doctor and prepares you for residency and fellowship.
  • Pass the USMLE exam – A three step test for prospective Doctors, which enables them to earn medical licensure.
  • Get a State License – Each state has their own system for obtaining a license to practice. For example, Connecticut requires Doctors to hold a medical degree, two years of post-graduate medical training, and all the required tests above.

FNP vs. Doctor: Deciding The Next Best Step For You

Becoming a Doctor or Family Nurse Practitioner are both noble undertakings and worthwhile pursuits. As you think about your next steps, see which path fits best into your lifestyle and life plans. How much time do you have to pursue a degree? What other priorities are you juggling in your life? If you want to practice medicine, in what area do you want to specialize? How much autonomy do you wish to have in your career? In which setting do you want to work?

So many aspiring caregivers dream of helping others, but sometimes life gets in the way and it’s not possible to dedicate 100% of your time to career training. The good news is that it is possible to become a Family Nurse Practitioner while still managing other responsibilities, like taking care of children and working a job. Goodwin’s FNP program is offered entirely online – apart from orientation, Immersion weekends, and clinicals—and can be completed at a pace that works for you. The program can also be completed in as little as 27 months. At Goodwin, you will learn from experienced healthcare workers that are passionate about education and helping students at any age. If you dream to make a difference in the medical field, but are unsure if medical school is right for you, Goodwin’s Family Nurse Practitioner program could be the answer for you.

If you want to learn more about our Family Nurse Practitioner program, visit Goodwin University online or call us at 800-889-3282 to speak with an admissions officer.