Both nurses and doctors wear stethoscopes, dress in scrubs, carry initials after their names, and work hard at the frontline of healthcare. They perform many of the same tasks, but there are differences as well. The level of responsibility, scope of practice, and type of education help determine if you’re talking about a doctor or a nurse.
Before choosing a career path, it is important to unravel the details about these two types of heroes.
Read on to discover:
- What is a doctor?
- What is a nurse?
- What are the similarities between doctors and nurses?
- What are the differences between doctors and nurses?
- What is the salary outlook for doctors and nurses?
- What is the job outlook for doctors and nurses?
- What should you consider when choosing between the two roles?
What is a doctor?
A doctor is a highly trained medical professional who has a license to diagnose and treat a patient’s condition.
Types of doctors
While there are many types of doctors. These are a few of the most common:
- Family physicians are doctors who specialize in preventative care for people of all ages. They treat those with chronic illnesses and minor injuries. They perform annual physical exams and are the first doctor one might see for health concerns before going to a specialist.
- An Anesthesiologist is a type of doctor who is licensed to administer anesthesia. These doctors are present in the operating room and administer general anesthesia to patients during surgery. They monitor them closely to ensure the patient is responding well to the medicine.
- Emergency Medicine doctors receive patients with injuries, poisoning, breathing problems, stroke symptoms, and chest pain. They examine the patient and stabilize them as soon as possible. Then they either admit them to the hospital for further treatment/testing or discharge them with instructions on what to do next.
What is a nurse?
A nurse is a healthcare professional licensed by their state to provide medical care. They train to have a broad skillset to cover a variety of caregiver tasks and specialties.
Types of nurses
There are many types of nurses. These are a few related to the doctors mentioned above.
- Nurse Practitioners (NP) are trained to do many things a doctor can do like diagnose a patient’s condition and formulate a treatment plan. Some states allow NPs to prescribe medications.
- A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) has advanced their career to provide patients help with general anesthesia for surgery, monitor them closely during the procedure, and help them recover from it afterwards. They are also equipped to handle epidurals, nerve blocks, and spinal injections to help with a patient’s pain.
- An emergency room (ER) nurse is one of the first professionals to take care of the patient when they arrive at the hospital. They take care of treatment ordered by the doctor necessary to ensure the patient’s safety and well-being. They often help educate the patient on the treatment plan the physician ordered for them before they are discharged or sent to another part of the hospital.
Tired of applying for nursing jobs?
With Incredible Health, hospitals apply to YOU.
What are the similarities between doctors and nurses?
Doctors and nurses perform well under pressure and have the ability to make quick, life-saving decisions. They are also able to exhibit soft skills like:
- Critical thinking
- Strong written and verbal communication skills
- Attention to detail
Nurses and physicians strive to help, heal, and serve others. They stay up to date on the latest medical terms, technology, and research. Both are inspiring professions and are in the business of changing lives for the better.
What are the differences between doctors and nurses?
There are many differences between doctors and nurses. Some include:
|School availability in the U.S.||Close to 200 schools and programs||Almost 3,000 schools and programs|
|Job flexibility||Have to go through residency again if they change specialty||Can change specialties without having to go back to school|
|Life and work balance||May be on call 24/7 to respond to phone calls or make emergency visits||Can turn over care of patient and clock out at end of shift|
Nurses are trained to care for a variety of patient needs which allows them to work in family medicine one day and mental health the next. If a doctor wants to change their specialty, they must go through a rigorous process of residency all over again to gain expertise in the new area.
Choosing between becoming a nurse versus a doctor may amount to how much time you are willing to commit to your career. Doctors need to be available frequently, throughout the day and night for some patients. Nurses usually work 8- to 12-hour shifts and can be relieved of their duties.
What is the salary outlook for doctors and nurses?
Salaries for doctors and nurses can depend on:
- Type of license
A registered nurse makes an average salary of $82,750. Check out each state to find which location works for your budget.
Discover your true salary range
Receive a free salary estimate in minutes. Then get matched with nursing jobs to pay it.
What is the job outlook for doctors and nurses?
Demand for doctors and RNs continues to rise, while the need for RNs is slightly higher. The nursing profession continues to grow because of an aging population requiring ongoing healthcare services. Patients are increasingly looking for a more holistic approach to medicine which advanced practitioners tend to offer.
The need for advanced nurse practitioners is rising as the industry demand for nurses increases compared to the demand for doctors.
What should you consider when choosing between the two roles?
You want to determine the amount of time you want to invest in your education. It will normally take more than 10 years to become a doctor. You can begin nursing within 12-18 months, though most choose to get their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) which is 4 years.
The types of responsibilities and amount of time nurses spend with patients differ greatly from a physician. Nurses often have more time to spend tending to the patient.
Think about what kind of role you want to have in the healthcare to help you decide between these two careers.
To become a doctor a person must:
- Earn a 4-year pre-med bachelor’s degree
- Pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
- Complete 4 years of medical school
- Pass one or more U.S. medical licensing exams
- Choose a specialty and complete 3 to 7 years of residency
- Pass a board certification exam
Doctors have the option of entering a fellowship program for 1 or more years after they complete their residency.
To become a nurse a person must:
- Be admitted to a nursing program
- Graduate from an accredited nursing program after 12 months to 4 years
- Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)
Earn your CEUs free
Our easy online CE courses are ANCC-accredited and 100% free for nurses.
A doctor’s responsibilities can include:
- Performing a physical exam
- Collecting patient history
- Ordering tests
- Prescribing medication
Depending on the patient’s condition, they may order diagnostic tests, such as X-rays and blood work before diagnosing the patient. Interpreting lab and radiology results is an important responsibility.
After a diagnosis is made, the physician may prescribe medications and treatment, such as surgical intervention. Referring patients to a specialist, like an oncologist, is another added responsibility.
Responsibilities of a nurse can include:
- Head-to-toe nursing assessment of the patient
- Monitoring symptoms, and vital signs, and documenting findings in the patient’s medical record
- Keeping the doctor up to date with important changes in the patient
- Helping patients complete daily living activities like toileting, walking, and bathing
Nurses also administer medications and perform diagnostic tests like blood draws ordered by a physician. They also carry out duties such as wound care and prepping patients for examinations.
Both of these careers are the heartbeat of healthcare. Although very different, nurses and doctors come together for the patient’s best interest. If you choose one of these paths, it can provide you with the ability and knowledge to change many lives.
You can visit the Questions & Advice section to see real nurse talk for more information about subjects like this and so much more!
Expert advice from nurses like you
- “Anesthesiologist Salary.” bls.org. Accessed June 22nd, 2022.
- “Doctor Salary and Job Outlook.” bls.org. Accessed June 16th, 2022.
- “Emergency Room Doctor: Salary and Career Facts.” learn.org. Accessed June 23, 2022.
- “MCAT.” students-residents.aamc.org. Accessed June 16th, 2022.
- “Nurse Practitioners More in Demand Than Physicians.” smartrecruiters.com. Accessed June 23, 2022.
- “Registered Nurse Salary and Job Outlook.” bls.org. Accessed June 16th, 2022.
- “Schools and Programs for Doctors.” mrmcw.org. Accessed June 16th, 2022.
- “Schools and Programs for Nurses.” aacnnursing.org. Accessed June 16th, 2022.
- “What Is an Anesthesiologist?” webmd.com. Accessed June 23, 2022.
- “What is a Family Physician?” familycarenetwork.com. Accessed June 23, 2022.