Difference Between a Doctor and a Nurse

It seems very easy to tell a doctor from a nurse in a hospital. After all, even their uniforms are different. However, besides a few letters and their clothing, are there any differences between a doctor and a nurse?

If you’ve been to a hospital multiple times, you might find yourself struggling with the technicality between nurses and doctors. They all seem to be doing the same things and, in some cases, nurses seem like they work harder than doctors. However, nurses are not doctors. There are similarities and differences in the professions.

What They Have in Common

Before we can look at where the professions divulge, it’s better to start with what is easier to understand to create a basis from which we can look at the differences.

Some of the services that both doctors and nurses can performing include:

  • Ordering and interpreting imaging results
  • Diagnosing and treating illnesses
  • Performing preventative exams (medicare wellness visits and annual physicals)
  • Writing prescriptions

It’s however important to note that different nurses have different scopes. The extent of what they can practice and do depends on their field of specialisation and their location.

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Differences Between Nurses and Doctors

Although in a hospital setting doctors might be confused for nurses especially when their attires look similar, the two professions are different on many levels.


Both doctors and nurses go through intensive training before entering the medical profession. But, the length and scope of their education are different. Becoming a doctor requires that you first attend medical school where you attain an undergraduate or postgraduate medical degree. Depending on the science course you take, this could take anywhere between four to six years.

Doctors then go on to complete a two-year foundation programme to prepare for specialist training. Doctors can choose to complete the three-year specialist training programme to become a GP or study a further five to eight years in a specialist field.

The road to becoming a nurse is much easier and shorter. Nurses must also complete a degree. Once they decide which area of nursing they wish to pursue, they can complete a course that only takes three years.

Upon completing the course, the nurse can register with the necessary council and obtain the required license and certification to practice. For most nurses, this is where their formal education stops.


It’s easy to think that most medical providers work under a unified governing body. However, nurses and doctors have different licensing bodies, sit for different exams and there are different recertification requirements for doctors and nurses depending on the field.

Both nurses and doctors have to pass a standardised exam to obtain their licenses. However, the exams vary depending on the profession and the area of specialisation.

Salary Expectations

The salary expectation for each profession shows the extent of medical training taken for each career path. Doctors typically earn substantially higher salaries than nurses. However, the salaries can vary depending on the region, employer and speciality.

For nurses, the base salary is about £29,532 per year while the base salary of a physician is around £59,195 per year.

Senior registered nurses can earn high salaries as well depending on their training and experience that can go as high as £60,943 per year. But compared to salaries of upper-level doctors like oncologists and other specialised doctors, who can earn up to £100,000 per year, doctors still demand a higher salary than nurses of equal experience and training.

Patient Interaction

Doctors and nurses have varying amounts of time spent in direct contact with patients. Nurses tend to spend more time interacting with patients directly than doctors do. Many of their day-to-day tasks involve maintaining patient care.

Doctors on the other hand spend more time completing paperwork in relation to patient care than seeing the patients face to face.

It is however important to note that the time spent with patients varies between specialities. Doctors placed in communities might spend more hours with patients than senior consultants in a hospital environment.

Philosophical Focuses

At their core, doctors are scientists. Their work is to study diseases and find ways to cure them. Nurses on the other hand are healers. They focus on the care and wellness of their patient’s bodies and minds. There is a slight difference in how both professionals approach patient care. While nurses believe in putting in the work and being there and ensuring their patients are comfortable, doctors are more laid back and reliant on modern science.

Understanding the differences between nurses and doctors will not just help you to tell the two apart next time you’re at the hospital, it could also help you identify the best career path for you. If you prefer taking the journey and spending time with patients, you might find better satisfaction in a career as a nurse than a doctor.

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