NPs vs MDs: This is how you end the discussion

All around the internet, there are lots of NP vs MD discussions, and NPs might have to deal with the stigma of not being “real doctors” during their careers. 


As a nurse practitioner, or NP student, it’s very likely that you’ve had this discussion with somebody in or out of your field.


Nurse practitioners in the United States are constantly misunderstood in their practice. Not many people know exactly what they do, and many people confuse them with RNs.


Though they provide a very important service, especially during this pandemic, a lot of people misrepresent them and don’t appreciate the value of their work, which is not fair.



How does an NP compare with a physician?


NPs provide a very similar healthcare service, but MDs are in another category. NPs and physicians perform many of the same tasks, which can include the prescription of certain medications, and the diagnosis and treatment of various illnesses.


A 2015 study from the University of Texas found that primary care nurse practitioners helped diabetic patients to avoid unnecessary hospital visits. It also found that primary care provided by NPs was one great way to address the shortage of primary care physicians.


They also remarked that, in comparison, NPs spent more time with their patients, and had a greater influence on their education. They also followed-up with them more frequently than many physicians, according to previous studies.


These reasons are not meant to put one above the other, but rather to show that the MD vs NP discussion is antiquated, and doesn’t really show an understanding of what each healthcare provider does.


What are the main differences between an NP and an MD?


While nurse practitioners need an average of six to eight years of postgraduate study to fulfill their roles, medical doctors need up to eleven years. This difference might give some people the wrong impression that MDs are “better” than NPs.


NPs will also need to collaborate with MDs to prescribe medication in some cases.


However, nurse practitioners (sometimes) have to take up roles that are critical for patient care, like counseling, education and administrative work. MDs usually don’t have to do this. This part of the job explains why NPs are also very important to the healthcare system.


If you take a closer look at other differences between NPs and MDs, such as the ones explained in this article by Nurse Practitioner Schools, you’ll see that each one of them fulfills a certain role in many cases. It isn’t about who does more, or who is better prepared.



How nurse practitioners may provide “more than medicine”


In her book “More Than Medicine,” sociology professor LaTonya J. Trotter describes the experience of a group of nurse practitioners caring for patients with limited resources and low socioeconomic status.


She states that these NPs usually went out of their way to provide a service that goes beyond what physicians do, in most cases.


The service included, as written on the sinopsis: “an inclusive form of care work that addressed medical, social, and organizational problems that often accompany poverty.”


Jennifer Reich, from the University of Colorado, writes on her review of this book that “nurse practitioners manage social problems by not just providing healthcare, but also social services and emotional support to patients in need.”


Does this mean that nurse practitioners are better than physicians?


Again, this is not a competition. What we’re trying to say is the job of the nurse practitioner is sometimes more nuanced than what people recognize.


In the United States, we might be eager to see who comes first in the healthcare race, who deserves our respect and our admiration more, but this is a huge mistake. 


We currently have a shortage of PPE equipment and healthcare personnel, so we need to focus on how to treat our patients better. The real bottom line for healthcare should be the number of healthy and happy patients in a given community.


If a patient has an issue, should they see an NP or an MD?


It depends on the kind of issue. NPs have the training to provide great care in most cases. They can treat patients, educate them, provide counseling to them and send them on their way. 


However, a lot of times they can only be the first link in the chain, meaning they will see the patient and then refer them to an MD, who will add more value and insight to the case through the knowledge that comes from their specialization.


It’s always a matter of teamwork between providers. 



Can NPs replace doctors?


NPs will never replace doctors, but they don’t have to. They do their job alongside them, and they do it right.


Whenever you’re asked what your job entails as a nurse practitioner, and how it compares to that of an MD, remember that your practice has a particular scope, and that you’re just as important to the overall system.


The truth of the matter is that neither should be considered above the other. If anything, this year has proven that all healthcare professionals need to be recognized, as they are always on the frontlines, caring for each and every one of us.




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