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Tip #3 Employees Ask – What is a Nurse Practitioner? Doctors vs. Nurse Practitioners?

Tip #3 Employees Ask – What is a Nurse Practitioner? Doctors vs. Nurse Practitioners?

February 28, 2020

Enrolling in a medical plan is one thing. Understanding your plan is another. Educating your employees to become better smarter consumers about their healthcare can translate into healthier employees and cost savings. Another common area of confusion involves employees being confronted with seeing a nurse practitioner when calling to see a doctor.

Determining whether you need a traditional doctor or if seeing a nurse practitioner will handle your current healthcare needs can be difficult, especially if you are not sure how they differ. Hopefully we can shed some light here as to the general differences between general practicing doctors (MDs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) to assist you in making that decision.


According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), nurse practitioners, or NPs as they are sometimes referred, are trained, licensed and independent healthcare clinicians concentrated on managing patient’s health conditions including treating injuries and illnesses, as well as supporting prevention. Licensed as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), nurse practitioners usually specialize, or even sub-specialize, in a specific medical specialty. Common specialty areas include family practice, pediatrics and women’s health, whereas sub-specialties may be in dermatology, cardiology, oncology, or behavioral health and psychiatry. NPs generally are required to have master’s degree in nursing to practice, while a doctoral degree in nursing practice (DNP) is becoming a more preferred degree track for this profession.


An MD is a doctor of medicine. Doctors are able to diagnose conditions, treat patients for all ailments, and write prescriptions. While a doctor may refer a patient for specialized care, such as a neurologist, the physician has a well-rounded education that overlaps with all specialties. An NP is a nurse practitioner. This is sometimes confused with an RN, which is a registered nurse. Whereas the RN can’t prescribe medications, the nurse practitioner is licensed to do so, as well as diagnose conditions. Some states and cities have differing laws and regulations that require physicians to oversee NPs, but other areas allow NPs to work without oversight. NPs are sometimes called the bridge that connects RNs and MDs; they have two-years more education than registered nurses, but they have less training than MDs. Also, it is key to remember that an NP is licensed by the Nursing Board, while doctors are licensed by the Medical Doctor’s Board.


The United States is facing shortages of doctors all over the country, particularly in primary care. Because of this, many hospitals, private clinics, and urgent care locations are relying upon nurse practitioners to fill the excess need. Patients who demand to see traditional physicians may experience longer waiting periods before appointments, whereas patients who accept NPs could receive care more expediently. Because of this, many urgent care centers and walk-in and retail clinics are staffing nurse practitioners instead of physicians. For the services offered by the majority of urgent cares, NPs are fully licensed and capable of treating all illnesses and injuries. That said, if you have a desire to be seen by a doctor at an urgent care, do some research on your local clinic to make sure they staff physicians.


While the growing number of nurse practitioners could fill the need for more doctors in the US, many doctors are fighting not to let NPs care for patients without supervision. According to Bloomberg Business Week the United States is facing a shortage of 13,000 doctors, which could grow to more than 130,000 within 12 years. Meanwhile, there are 155,000 NPs willing to fill that need. In the future, that could spell more freedom for Nps to practice without supervision, particularly in urgent care settings and with roll-out of healthcare reform whereby creating the need for greater accessibility and care team accountability. Understanding the difference between nurse practitioners and traditional physicians can be difficult, because in many cases, the job descriptions overlap. The key differences are that many states require NPs to have physician supervision, and the medical doctors have much more extensive and comprehensive training.


Having your employees understand their health plan is important so that they truly value the benefit and can feel confident they are getting the most out of their plan. The experienced team at MY-Employee Benefits Plus is here to help. We work with our clients to put in place effective and reinforced employee benefit plan education to ultimately reinforce their decision and confidence that made you their employer of choice. Let’s start a conversation that will lead your employees to know, like, understand and ultimately have positive, valued experience with their employee benefits.