nurse practitioners


If you need to find a new health care provider, you may be wondering the difference between a nurse practitioner and a medical doctor. While they both treat medical conditions and refer to specialists, including mental health professionals, they are not the same thing.


Nurse practitioners earn a registered nurse’s degree and must pass their state’s exam. Then, they must continue their education to earn their master’s or doctorate in nursing. Therefore, most nurse practitioners have between six and eight years of formal nursing education. While it is not a requirement, many spend a few years working in nursing before returning to the classroom.

On the other hand, doctors must complete eight years of formal medical training. Then, they must spend three to seven years as a resident. Therefore, they spend between 11 and 15 years studying to be a medical doctor. In the end, they must pass state and national tests.


In Wisconsin and many other states, nurse practitioners cannot practice without being overseen by a medical doctor. Meanwhile, medical doctors are autonomous, but they may be part of a group with a head doctor.

Ability to Prescribe Medicine

Both medical doctors and nurse practitioners can prescribe most medications, and a nurse practitioner can only prescribe some medications in Wisconsin after receiving 45 hours of additional training. Meanwhile, doctors can prescribe all medications unless their license has been restricted for some reason.

Scope of Coverage

In many cases, you can get in to see a nurse practitioner faster than you can a medical doctor. Since nurse practitioners work under a medical doctor, they can often refer you to their supervisor if they are uncomfortable handling your complex case. In some cases, you will see the other person while the nurse practitioner will pass on the information in other cases.

Ability to Specialize

Both nurse practitioners and medical doctors can specialize. In some cases, the name of the specialization is different. For example, a medical doctor may be a general practitioner. In contrast, a nurse practitioner is a family nurse practitioner or a childbirth specialist is an obstetrician-gynecologist while a nurse practitioner is a women’s health nurse practitioner.

At American Behavioral Clinics, we have a team of psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, psychologists, and licensed therapists- all here to help you reclaim and maintain your best self. We invite you to learn more about our care team here & to reach out to us as the first step on your wellness journey.