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Cedars-Sinai Blog

Can I See a Nurse Practitioner Instead of a Doctor?

NP, doctor, healthcare professionals, Cedars-Sinai

Patients can often get an appointment to see an NP sooner than they can get in to see a doctor.

What is a nurse practitioner?
Like a doctor, a nurse practitioner can:
  • Diagnose and treat acute conditions
  • Order diagnostic tests like X-rays or lab work
  • Manage a patient's overall care
  • Serve as a primary care provider
  • Be board-certified in specialties like family practice or women's health

NPs can also write prescriptions. In California, most NPs work under the supervision of a cooperating physician to prescribe medication to patients.

"We can pretty much do anything that a doctor can do with the exception of performing surgical procedures independently," says Sylvia Estrada, nurse practitioner in the Cedars-Sinai breast cancer program.

What's the difference between an NP and a doctor?

While doctors and nurse practitioners have many similarities, there are some notable differences. The biggest difference between the two is the amount of time spent on training. While NPs have more training than a registered nurse, they receive less training than a doctor.

They also are licensed differently. In California, nurse practitioners are licensed by the Nursing Board and MDs are licensed by the Medical Board.

Another difference is ease of access. Patients can often get an appointment to see an NP sooner than they can get in to see a doctor.

And it may get worse. The US is facing a shortage of physicians, especially in primary care. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the country could see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030.

"We are invested in making you feel comfortable, cared for, and healthy."

So when should I see a nurse practitioner?