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Family Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: What’s the Difference?

Trailblazers / Family Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: What’s the Difference?
Family Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor- a picture of an FNP testing a young patient's knee reflex
June 28, 2022

Finally, the ultimate career showdown: family nurse practitioner vs. doctor. Do you know the difference? Indeed, both roles are pillars of 21st-century American healthcare. For both roles are responsible for providing the highest-quality care to patients across their entire lifespan. Moreover, understanding the key differences and similarities between the two is important. Especially when you’re making a decision about the direction of your education or future career trajectory.

What is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

To clarify, a family nurse practitioner (FNP) is an advanced practice registered nurse and focus on the primary and specialty care of patients of all ages. In addition, they receive training in disease prevention, and the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, including acute and chronic health conditions.

As a result, FNPs can be employed in a variety of settings, like

  • Physicians’ offices
  • Community health centers
  • Private clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Urgent care centers
  • Skilled nursing and long-term care facilities
  • Correctional institutions
  • Family planning centers
  • Hospices
  • College campuses
  • Occupational sites (e.g.: large businesses and corporations, factories)

Not only that, but an FNP can pursue additional education and training in order to serve specialized populations. For example, FNPs can specialize in areas like women’s health, pediatrics, and cardiology.

Also, depending on the state in which you work, an FNP may be required to be supervised by a medical doctor. For instance, if you're working in a state with complete NP autonomy, the FNP can choose to open their own office or clinic, which could include other healthcare providers or simply a solo practice.

Differences Between Family Nurse Practitioners vs. Doctors

The Realm of the Medical Doctor

Generally speaking, the family practice doctor is the closest type of MD to an FNP in regards to how and where they might practice. Although, MDs have considerably more options in healthcare settings in which to practice. Many MDs collaborate with FNPs in clinics, ambulatory centers, urgent care facilities, and many other settings.

Differences in education

First, an FNP needs to become a nurse, which can be achieved through several avenues:

  • A four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree
  • An accelerated BSN program following completion of a bachelor’s degree in another discipline
  • An Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) program— also known as an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Also, a nurse with an ADN can apply to an RN to BSN program. The opportunity to earn a BSN degree will come with more opportunities and an increase in earning potential. So, once the BSN is achieved, a nurse can enter into a graduate program such as a Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner.

In pursuit of an MD, the student begins four years of med school following the completion of an undergraduate degree. In the final year of med school, students enter into residency. Here is when they will choose an area of clinical focus. These students receive intensive hands-on training from experienced physicians. Residency for family practice is generally three years, yet it can be considerably longer for specialties such as surgery.

Salaries and Jobs for MDs and FNPs

Although MDs and FNPs may both care for patients in the same settings, the earning potential and job outlook for each are strikingly different. While MDs may earn significantly more than FNPs, the projected job growth between 2020 and 2030 is notably different.

Median Annual WageMedian Hourly Wage    Job Outlook (2020-2030)
MD  $208,000$100.003% growth
FNP$117, 670$56.5745% growth

Data from Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Bottom Line

In short, family nurse practitioner vs. doctor provide comprehensive care to patients across the lifespan in a wide variety of settings.

An individual may become an FNP in about six years (by completing both a 4-year BS and 2-year MS program). But, completing training as a family practice doctor can take at least 11 years (by completing a 4-year undergraduate degree, four years of medical school, and at least three years of residency).

To sum up, when choosing between FNP vs MD, the time it takes to complete a program must be taken into consideration, as well as the professional goals of the individual. Further, it is beneficial to compare the earning potential and job outlook, with the cost of each educational pathway, and the debt that will be incurred for each. Although, either choice of profession is worthy and beckons a fascinating career in the service of others.

So, if you’re interested in becoming an FNP, check out the United States University FNP program where tuition is only $375 per month!

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC is a nurse, holistic career coach, writer, podcaster, and keynote speaker. Keith has conducted more than 2,000 coaching sessions with nurses from all walks of life. In addition, his podcast, The Nurse Keith Show, reaches nurses throughout the world with fascinating interviews and messages of inspiration and career strategy. He lives and works in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico.