Nurse Practitioner vs Doctor: What’s the Difference?

6 Min Read Published November 3, 2023
Nurse practitioner vs doctor

While NPs and MDs have many similarities, there are also some very significant differences. Keep reading to find out more about the differences between nurse practitioners vs doctors.  

What's the Difference Between a Nurse Practitioner vs a Medical Doctor?

The biggest difference is that a medical doctor attends medical school while a nurse practitioner does not. Other differences include their clinical training and the level of autonomy they have at work.  

The biggest similarity between NPs and MDs is job responsibilities. Both are certified and specially trained healthcare professionals that care for patients. Nurse practitioners and medical doctors prescribe medications, diagnose patients, run diagnostic tests, and oversee the care of their patients. 

Nurse Practitioner vs Doctor


Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Medical Doctor (MD)


$125,900 per year 

$229,300 per year

Job Outlook



Training & Education

  • Become an RN and obtain a BSN
  • Obtain a minimum of 1 year of nursing experience in relevant specialty
  • Enroll in MSN NP program
  • Take APRN certification exam
  • Apply for state APRN license
  • Attend a four-year college and obtain a Bachelor’s degree
  • Take required pre-med classes
  • Take MCAT exam
  • Apply to medical school
  • Complete medical school and residency program
  • Complete fellowship (if appropriate)

Job Duties

  • Prescribe medication
  • Examine patients
  • Order diagnostic tests
  • Diagnose illnesses
  • Provide treatment
  • Prescribe medication
  • Examine patients
  • Order diagnostic tests
  • Diagnose illnesses
  • Provide treatment

Scope of Practice

Depends on state of practice

Limited by specialty and training

Years to Become 

6-7 years

10-16 years

Cost of Schooling



Job Satisfaction

#1 in Best Health Care Jobs

#6 in Best Health Care Jobs

NP vs MD Salary

Both NPs and MDs have the potential to earn substantial salaries. 

Nurse Practitioner Salary

According to the BLS, nurse practitioners as of May 2022 earn an average annual salary of $121,610. 

>> Related: Nurse Practitioner Salary

Medical Doctor Salary

On the other hand, MDs earn an average annual salary of $229,300.

Doctor Salaries by Specialty

While NPs earn a fairly consistent salary that doesn’t vary too much depending on subspecialty, doctors can earn exponentially more depending on the field of practice.  According to the BLS, specialty doctors earned the following average annual salaries: 


    $239,200 or more


    $239,200 or more

Emergency medicine physicians

    $239,200 or more

Orthopedic surgeons, except pediatric

    $239,200 or more


    $239,200 or more


    $239,200 or more

Surgeons, all other

    $239,200 or more

Obstetricians and gynecologists

    $239,200 or more

Pediatric surgeons

    $239,200 or more

Ophthalmologists, except pediatric




Physicians, pathologists

    $239,200 or more



General internal medicine physicians


Family medicine physicians


Physicians, all other


Pediatricians, general


>> Show Me Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

NP vs MD Job Outlook

The job outlook is exceptionally high for NPs but rather low for MDs. 

Overall employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow 3% from 2022 to 2032, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment for nurse practitioners is projected to grow 38% from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations. 

While the job outlook is on the lower end for doctors, which is surprising - there is still a need for physicians and surgeons around the country.

If you’re thinking about becoming a nurse, are a nursing student, or are a current nurse who is ready to transition careers - this guide will help guide you to make the best professional decisions.

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NP vs MD Training & Education

While NPs and MDs both have substantial advanced training and education, the pathway to becoming each is very different. This is one of the biggest considerations when determining which path is right for you. While becoming an NP is time-consuming and difficult, the path to becoming a doctor can be grueling. 



  • Attend a four-year college and obtain a Bachelor’s degree
  • Take required pre-med classes
  • Take MCAT exam
  • Apply to medical school
  • Complete medical school and residency program
  • Complete fellowship (if appropriate)

Nurse Practitioner vs Doctor Job Duties and Scope of Practice

Specific medical doctor and nurse practitioner job duties are generally very similar. However, this will depend on the specialty and state of practice.

Basic job responsibilities include, but are not limited to, 

  • Prescribe medication
  • Examine patients
  • Order diagnostic tests
  • Diagnose illnesses
  • Provide treatment

For example, an anesthesiologist is responsible for administering anesthesia and monitoring the patient during surgical procedures. On the other hand, an orthopedist is responsible for treating diseases of the musculoskeletal system including muscles, bones, tendons, joints and ligaments.

NPs have the ability to specialize, similar to MDs, and their specific job duties will be dependent on that. A pediatric NP will specialize and focus on training and education related to pediatric patients. It would be outside the scope of their practice to treat an adult patient unless there is specific additional training. 

Scopes of practice are determined by state boards of nursing, licensing, and accreditation bodies. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) details the practice authority for NPs throughout the country. There are three classifications for NPs,

  • Full Practice
  • Reduced Practice 
  • Restricted Practice

Image: NP Practice Authority

The American Medical Association (AMA) is a great resource for medical doctors in finding additional information about the scope of practice in each state. The scope of practice for physicians is mostly determined by their specialty and advanced training. 

NP vs MD Length of Time to Become

Becoming an NP or MD takes substantial time, energy, and money. It is not for the faint of heart!

The road to a nurse practitioner is slightly less than a medical doctor but it still can take years. The main thing to consider is what type of NP or MD you want to be. 

  • For example, if you are interested in becoming a pediatrician this will take fewer years of training than becoming a neurosurgeon or cardiovascular surgeon. 

  • Before becoming an attending neurosurgeon, it can take 14 to 16 years of schooling and training. Becoming a practicing pediatrician takes roughly 9 years. 

Becoming an NP takes roughly 6 to 7 years but again this can depend on the type of NP you are interested in becoming. 

>> Show Me Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

NP vs MD Cost of Schooling

The cost of schooling depends on several factors including, 

  • Private vs. public
  • Location
  • Online vs. in-class vs. hybrid
  • Relocation fees
  • Cost of living

Generally speaking, becoming an NP costs much less than a doctor. Medical school is entirely in-person while there are online programs for NPs. All of the classwork is completed online while clinicals are in person with a preceptor.  

Regardless of becoming an NP or MD, the cost of education continues to rise. 

How To Choose Which Is Right For You

Knowing whether to become an NP or MD can be a long and difficult decision for some. 

If you are struggling to determine which path you are interested in taking, make a list of pros and cons. Consider all the factors involved including your family, financial situation, and desires for the future. 

For example, becoming a doctor most likely will require relocation. After attending medical school, you will be required to attend a residency program. Now, there may be hospitals local to you but you might not match to those or they may not have the specific training. You then will be required to move. NPs, because of the popularity of online programs, many NPs do not have to relocate. 

>> Related: How to Go From RN to MD

Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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