How Is Nursing Different From Medicine
Nurses and doctors are both healthcare professionals that are often found working together in hospitals or medical centers. The obvious difference between these two professions is in the way they dress. One can put it as simply as that but the basis is superficial and there is a lot more to being a nurse or a doctor. The usual misconception is that doctors boss around the nurses, while the nurses are the professional version of domestic helpers or caregivers. Both are experts and have gone through a rigid educational training to get the degree. Thus, comparison of the two professions on the basis of one being the boss and the other being the subordinate is wide off the mark.
The primary distinction between doctors and nurses is the degree they hold. The University of Bristol’s curriculum for Medicine involves a pre-medical year for four years. This program includes subjects on anatomy, chemistry and the life sciences to be able to familiarize the students of the basic concepts and prepare them for the medicine proper. This five-year program is rigorous since it already includes the higher sciences that are more specific and highly detailed. The bodily systems are discussed while diagnosis and treatment of diseases and clinical skills are learned (“Curriculum Overview”). A physician’s license, wherein the board exam is taken after finishing the course, is needed before medical practice. Undergoing a tough nine-year program is not an assurance of becoming a doctor because the licensure exams decide his fate. Residency and specialization is also part of becoming a doctor. An investment of a lot of time, money and brains are needed before becoming a professional physician. This is the reason why doctors are used to being placed high on a pedestal and well-respected because compared to other professionals, they have devoted a longer, more painstaking time for studying and learning. Consultations with doctors are usually high-priced because they are paid to think. Intricate knowledge on the different diseases and treatment procedures allow them to be paid a higher wage.
Nurses, on the other hand, do not go through a residency period although they are also required to take the board exams. The Nursing program of the Colby-Sawyer College is a good example of a college that offers holistic courses that assure their nursing graduates not only to be proficient in the modern technologies used for treatment but also to be able to maintain a rehabilitative and caring relationship with the patient (“Nursing Program Highlights”). Nurses can also extend their studies for a masteral and doctorate degree gaining them an edge over the average nurses. Unlike the careful and extremely detailed studies taken by doctors, the nursing curriculum is more generalized in terms of the social and natural sciences. There are also additional courses in the practice of nursing as well as on-the-job-training to simulate the kind of work required in a real setting.
From the overview of the studies that doctors and nurses had to go through, a clear idea is illustrated on how they would function later in their careers. Since doctors study the entirety of the human being, its parts and functions in the normal state, they are involved in knowing the nature and cause of the disease and find practical, efficient and effective ways of combating it. Doctors talk to their patients about their medical history, signs and symptoms of the disease and suggest them to undergo tests. The results of the physical or chemical tests are analyzed by the doctors until they pinpoint the cause of the disease before suggesting a treatment procedure. It is very important that the doctor specifically isolates the nature of the disease rather than making a faulty diagnosis since this could lead to a wrong treatment procedure that may even instigate a detrimental effect to the patient. The doctor is also responsible for informing the patient the results of the tests, the disease and the method of treatment to be employed. Doctors are trained on how to talk to patients about the disease by not using medical jargons as much as possible and in a manner comprehendible to the patient (“Diagnosis”).
Nurses, on the other hand, have the primary role of taking care of the patient. Nurses continuously attend to the needs of the patient depending on personal knowledge and experience in nursing. For instance, a simple sore can be alleviated by changing the position of the patient constantly. The decision to do this can be independently done by the nurse unless the doctor discourages the practice. The patient’s family is also taken cared of by the nurse through giving comfort especially in situations where the patient dies. Doctors work with the nurses by giving instruction on the medication and treatment procedures. Since nurses see their patients more often than doctors, they are tasked to constantly monitor the status and improvement of the patients so that doctors can also analyze the trend. They can also be a part of the health care team that assesses the patient’s condition. In addition, nurses provide protection for the patient against infection by making sure that the sheets are changed every so often in a sanitary confinement; provide privacy especially if the patient needs to change clothes; and provide protection against physical harm, for instance, tripping on the floor. Lastly, nurses work with the family to educate them about the illness of the patient, techniques to overcome it and methods of prevention (“The role…”). Basically, the main concern of nurses is to improve the well-being of the patient as well as the family.
The two professions have distinct differences in conversing with the patients and their families as reported by a study conducted by Sarah Collins of the University of York (“A Different…”). According to her, doctors communicate with patients “scientifically” by explaining as far as their knowledge is concerned. The focus of the conversation usually involves the medication and how it works, the right food to be eaten and how to improve on health. Also, doctors can be a little too reserved when dealing with patients that make it very difficult for them to have an open conversation. On the other hand, nurses tend to be very caring, friendly and accommodating to patients and their families. They are the ones mostly involved in the hospital care and treatment on a day-to-day basis as compared to periodic consultations with doctors. Like mothers, nurses constantly check on the medical status of the patients and this creates a rather “informal relationship” that even allows for unsolicited consultations by the patients and a healthy exchange of knowledge between the two. This major difference between doctors and nurses show a great importance in their work. According to Collins, the respectable attitude and approach of the doctors, reassures the patient’s trust to them and gives them enough confidence that an effective treatment is well underway. Conversely, the nurses’ compliant and caring attitude towards the patients encourages very beneficial discussions. When patients have other concerns that they cannot address directly to the doctors, the message can be conveyed through the nurses. Not only are they knowledgeable, they can also suggest alternative and additional treatment procedures that they have learned based on experience.
It is inevitable that disagreements between the two professions develop from the major differences that were illustrated. The Angry Medic Blog (2006) even contains real stories of dispute between nurses and doctors and has even named this as “Medicine’s Oldest Battle”. There is truth that some doctors abuse their power over the nurses and that some nurses cross the line by working independently without the consent of the doctors. These issues can only be resolved within the medical system itself and among colleagues.
Earlier, nurses are not allowed to diagnose diseases since only doctors are licensed to do such thing. In rural areas though, due to lack of doctors, nurses are recently able to diagnose and give out medications and only the serious cases are referred to doctors (“The role…”). BBC News (1999) also reported that the role of the nurses in the health care system would be on a greater scale than before. Prescription of drugs is now allowed and a more clinical expertise is called for. With this expansion of the role of nurses, improved care is guaranteed especially to those who need it most.
Nurses and doctors belong to the same industry and the differences between the two professions were clearly illustrated. First and foremost, medical doctors obtain an M.D. degree as compared to nurses with a Bachelor degree. The doctor’s role is to examine the patient, administer tests, make a diagnosis, and design a treatment program fit for the patient. The nurse becomes involved in the treatment and everyday care of the patient. There is also a difference in the way doctors and nurses communicate with the patients. The doctor’s approach is more firm and methodical in contrast to the warm and informal approach of the nurses. These differences more often than not lead to misunderstandings and a very unhealthy relationship between nurses and doctors. What is important is to put into mind that these differences can be put into better use. In a health care team, the concerted efforts of both doctors and nurses can lead to a better understanding of the patient’s status and progress. The individual efforts matter a lot since their distinct functions complement each other. The absence of one leads to ineffective functioning of the other.
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Curriculum Overview. (2006, October 12). University of Bristol. Retrieved August 18, 2007,
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