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Clinical Systems Leadership

Doctors Recommend Careers as Nurse Practitioners vs. Primary Care Physicians

Jan - W1T1

According to a recent survey, both doctors and nurse practitioners are more likely to recommend students become nurse practitioners than primary care physicians. The need for primary care clinicians is increasing as the population in the U.S. grows older and health care becomes more extensive. These findings could be impactful as doctors and nurse practitioners offer similar services when acting as primary care clinicians.

Become a nurse practitioner
The survey was conducted and analyzed by a multi-institution team of researchers that included the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and Mathematica Policy Research. Published online in the journal Academic Medicine, the study was conducted in 2012 and 2013 and included 467 nurse practitioners and 505 physicians across the U.S.

As many as 66 percent of the physicians surveyed said that they thought qualified students should pursue careers as nurse practitioners. Only 56 percent recommended their own career path to eligible students.

Nurse practitioners on the other hand were more willing to suggest both, though a career as a nurse practitioner was promoted higher than doctors. Eighty-eight percent of polled nurse practitioners advised students to become NPs while 66 percent recommended students become physicians.

The leading reason for these findings is likely the lifestyle that each career affords. As senior study author Karen Donelan, Sc.D., Ed.M., of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy, explained, nurse practitioners appear to have more reasonable and manageable hours than doctors, while still providing care to people in need.

“Our data have shown that primary care physicians and nurse practitioners are being educated in very different ways to provide similar types of clinical services,” Donelan said in a statement. “Nurse practitioners report much greater career satisfaction, work fewer hours and have more time with patients. Primary care physicians appear more beleaguered and work longer hours but are better paid. We need a national dialogue that will assure the public can access primary care services provided by clinicians whose roles and skills are clear.”

Fellow study author Catherine DesRoches, Dr.P.H., of Mathematica Policy Research, explained that these results mean that medical educators and leaders have to rethink physician satisfaction and lifestyle. The U.S. won’t be able to deal with a doctor shortage if clinicians are unhappy with their careers.

In the survey, just less than half of the physicians indicated partial satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their careers. Among these doctors, only 37 percent recommended their job to qualified students while 63 percent advised students pursue a degree as a nurse practitioner.

What’s the difference between a nurse practitioner and a doctor?
For students considering a career in medicine, it’s important to know exactly how becoming a primary care physician and a nurse practitioner are different.

The AAFP explained that it takes a doctor an average of 11 years including undergraduate, medical school and residencies, while it takes a nurse practitioner about five to seven years to begin practicing.

Nurse practitioners are a taught a wide variety of skills and can deliver care comparable to doctors in many ways as a primary care physician, however there are various restrictions that control what NPs are allowed to do, including state regulations. Usually nurse practitioners are able to prescribe medication, diagnose conditions, order and interpret tests, and deliver general care.

Nurse practitioners are known as advanced practice nurses or advanced registered nurse practitioners. They often receive 1 to 3 years of schooling after undergraduate that includes a Master of Science in Nursing, which nearly 80 percent of APNs or ARNPs have, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Doctors on the other hand typically attend four years of graduate medical school as well as at least three years of residency and multiple exams, such as the United States Medical Licensing Examination.

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