by Eric Hebert
Let's see. They all work in the same place. They look like they all wear similar uniforms. The all walk the walk and all talk the talk. How do you tell the difference between a doctor and a nurse? Their are many different aspects of each that separate the one profession from the other. At the same time, the lines are starting to blur between certain roles of the nursing profession and that of being a doctor. Being a nurse in today's world has evolved very much over the years, but still has a way to go before it can match the social status that a doctor carries with their title. Let's take a look at why this is and how nursing is transforming ever so slightly and earning some more respect in today's working environment.
Everyone thinks of doctors and nurses as working in the same environment. In the physical sense, they obviously do. Most healthcare professionals work in the hospital environment, where patients are being cared for in a high-intensity environment around the clock. Doctors and nurses also share the same physical space in a more casual atmosphere at the doctor's office or clinic. Notice I said "doctor's office" and not "nurse's office". The doctor always controls or is in control of the environment, whether it's owning an office or being in control of the hospital staff. Their "social" environment also differs in who surrounds them. Nurses act very much like soldiers on the front line, winning the small battles and calling upon the doctor when big problems arise. They interact with patients on a more personal level while the "generals" oversee the larger operation. Doctors also deal with much of business and politics that are associated with running a efficient and profitable medical practice. So while doctors and nurses do both share the same physical workspace, both play different positions on the field and view their environments in completely different ways.
Probably the biggest thing that separates doctors from nurses is education. To become a doctor, you obviously have to go through many years of training and education to even get in the door, and then spend quite some time working your way up the medical ladder. Let's just say the road to becoming a doctor is a long and hard road, and justifies their status in society as an elite profession that brings home the bacon. Nursing, however, is a fairly easy profession to get into. Most technical or community colleges offer 18-24 month associates degrees that will get your career started. From there you can either begin working as an licensed practice nurse or continue on and get either a bachelors of nursing or science. The bachelor degree will earn you RN status (after passing some certification programs, or course), which make up most of the nursing professions out there. Nurses can continue to further their education in specific areas that basically put them in a same class as doctors; known as Advance Practice Nurses, they usually pick up a MBA along the way and specialize in certain types of medical care, but are well compensated for their efforts.
Because of the differences in education, an obvious conclusion can be drawn regarding the duties of doctors versus nursing. As mentioned before, nurses work the "front lines" of a practice. They are the first person to interact with a patient, and are responsible for discovering the source of a patients problem, assessing the situation, and finding a solution. Many times, for non life threatening sickness or easy to treat symptoms, a doctor will not even be required and a nurse can take care of the problem. Nurses are educated to know how to perform many different tasks so as to free up time for a more specialized Doctor, who is usually focused on very technical aspects of medical care. When you think of tasks being performed by doctors, you think of surgeons in the ER, delivering babies, or even the dentist who does the actual root canal. Nurses are typically focused on preparing you to see the doctor and making sure you're doing what's right and what's healthy upon your departure.
Most of the time, the doctor is running the show. It's their practice or their team, and that team usually consists of other nurses. Doctor is daddy and everyone listens to daddy, or else. However this isn't always the case. Nurses make the wheels go 'round and in some situations have authority. For example, an Advanced Practice Nurse might be in control of other nurses instead of even having an actual doctor running the show. Another scenario can arise when a doctor is visiting another hospital or possibly a section of a large hospital that is not under his direct authority. In each of these, the APN does have authority over their staff of nurses if another doctor is not in charge or present. Other than that, doctors have all the authority and have it rightfully so. They are usually the top of the ladder in the medical profession, and there are many different levels of being a doctor that each carry different levels of authority. Doctor's are the "management" staff of the hospital while nurses are the general workers.
When discussing how to obtain experience in the medical field, it obviously has a lot to do with your education. There's only one way to become a doctor, and that's by going to school for many years before even stepping foot into a hospital or clinic. The opposite is true with being a nurse. With just that initial 18 month certification, you can get started as an LPN and get your feet wet. Some states offer RN programs where you can grab that bachelors of science while still working as an LPN. As you continue your career, you'll have plenty of opportunities to move up and continue your education. This is probably one area where a nurse has more experience in certain things (like dealing with different kinds of people and patients) than perhaps a doctor. Put a doctor and a nurse of the same age together, and I'll guarantee you the nurse has had more actual hands on experience at her job than the doctor has. The doc spends many years in school while the nurse was already getting their hands dirty on the job.
If one thing is for sure, and that's the difference in how much money a doctor makes compared to a nurse. Again, it's all relative to how much education the doctor has to go through with in order to achieve his status, as is the specialized nature of his job. And that's also not to say that certain kinds of nurses can't earn money in the same ball league as a doctor, it's just not the average or the norm. Doctors on average make anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000 per year, with highly specialized or renowned surgeons making even more than that. RNs, for the most part make a salary of about $50,000 in most situations. Take it to the next level and earn a Advance Practice Degree and your chances of earning $75,000 and upwards significantly increases. Also. because APN's are becoming cost-effective ways of providing care instead of more expensive doctors, they're very much in demand and seeing rising salaries compared to regular RN certification.
This is a huge difference in the differences between doctors and nurses when it comes to how they are perceived in society. Everybody seems to look up to the doctors as being part of an elite group of rich, intelligent, and powerful people in society. Nurses, on the other hand, or looked down as more of a working-class part of society. Nursing is the "blue collar worker" and being a doctor is "white collar." However, as more advanced nursing programs develop and the need for more APN grows, the line in perception begins to blur as people take notice of the different grades the nursing profession offers. As more APN's begin filling the ranks, people will start to recognize them and put them in the same room as their fellow doctors. Even so, the entire social stigma associated with nursing is one that every industry has and will take many years to brake. Somebody always takes the credit and doctors will always be the ones that get it.
Much like money and authority, doctors usually wield far more power in not only their work environment, but in other aspects of their lives as well. The simple fact of the matter is that because doctors make more money and drive nicer cars, they have more power in society than nurses do. They get much more respect from their peers and command more attention because of their job title. APN's who specialize in certain areas of medical care may in some instances command the same kind of attention in their personal lives as a doctor could, but that's an exception. Maybe if more APN's begin taking over prominent roles in large healthcare institutions, they can take some of the social power and prosperity that comes with being a doctor. More education plus more money equals more power. That, no matter what industry you work in, is always and will forever be true.
Doctors have been around, well, since the beginning of time. Think of ancient types of doctors like witch doctors, medicine men, or scary visions of war doctors back in the day. Even then, being a doctor was a respected profession. Nursing, however, was not a respected profession until the past two hundred or so years. Before nursing heroines such as Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, nursing was considered almost a beggars kind of job reserved for the lower class. These women changed the perception of nursing and helped establish it as a much more serious profession and helped their fellow nurses earn much more respect than they had ever gotten before. Still, though, many feel that nursing is a "taken-for granted" kind of profession that deserves much more respect than it actually gets.
The medical profession has historically always been split like this. Doctor's are male; nurses are female. For hundreds (if not thousands) of years, this was pretty much the norm. Over the past fifty years, that stigma has changed as more women have become part of the working class and have become a major part of the elite in the medical industry. And on the flip side, more male nurses exist than ever before. The more respect the nursing profession gets, the more younger people will take an interest in possibly getting an education in the field. And a more continuing education programs become the norm and the lines between being a doctor or being an highly educated advanced practice nurse becomes, the more students will sign up, as it will be seen as a much more easier and cost effective means to getting an education. So while typically their were gender barriers in the past in the medical industry, that has and will continue to change in the years to come.