The Truth Between Nurse Practitioners and Doctors

Nurse Practitioner

By: Eric McMullen


Ever wondered why sometimes you are seeing a nurse practitioner instead of a doctor for an initial appointment? Eric McMullen helps tell the difference between NPs and doctors and why nurse practitioners are crucial to the healthcare system. 

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) play an extremely important role in Canada’s healthcare system. NPs have received certifications to expand their nursing scope of practice and can diagnose some diseases, prescribe certain medications and treatments, perform certain medical procedures, and order and interpret certain diagnostic tests.

Nurse practitioners work in various settings such as hospitals, schools, pharmacies, and medical clinics, where they manage chronic diseases, reduce and control pain, perform physical assessments, and treat fractures and dislocations. 

Canada is currently facing a massive shortage of primary care providers (including doctors, nurses, social workers, support workers, etc). This means that wait times to see a healthcare professional can be long, and the pressure on primary care providers is high. NPs can help to fill this gap by providing high-quality, accessible care to patients. 

As a medical student who has worked on the frontlines of our healthcare system, I can attest to the role of nurse practitioners in keeping our communities healthy and well cared for. I have seen NPs diagnose, prescribe, and perform medical procedures with a high degree of competence.  

I was working alongside a NP at a dermatology clinic and we saw multiple patients who were extremely worried and anxious about having a biopsy done for suspected melanoma (a type of skin cancer). In all of these cases, I was able to see how the NP listened to the patient’s concerns and tried to truly understand what was worrying them the most so they could make the patient feel more comfortable. I think that because nurses have more face time with patients, they are often very empathetic and patient-focused in their care. 

So then, what is the difference between nurse practitioners and doctors? Well put simply, it’s a difference in education and training. NPs have completed a master’s degree in nursing, while medical doctors have completed a medical degree. Both require many licensing exams. And while NPs can legally do many things as doctors, they cannot do everything. They are restricted in the types of diseases they can diagnose, the tests they can order, and the treatments they can prescribe. Medical doctors on the other hand, have a much larger scope of practice and are able to perform specialized procedures and surgeries that NPs are not able to perform. 

Both nurse practitioners and doctors are vital in Canada’s healthcare system, and which provider you see really depends on the reason you need to see them and where you are located. Do not forget that much of medicine is team-based, so don’t be surprised if you are seeing more than one provider for your care. The benefit of doing medicine this way is that each member of the healthcare team ends up being really good at their job. 

And let me tell you, the nurse practitioners at GetSkinHelp™ are nothing short of extraordinary and give you unprecedented access to dermatological care. 

About the author

Eric McMullen is a medical student at McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. 

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