Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor Salary – Check out the Difference

Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN

Are you considering a career as a healthcare provider? If so, have you thought of your long-term options regarding the type of degree you would like to achieve? There are several options for people who want to provide direct patient care and earning potential is one thing that may determine one’s education path. Nurse practitioners and doctors are some of the highest-paid healthcare providers in the industry, although there is big difference in nurse practitioner vs doctor salary. In this article, we will discuss the salary difference between a doctor and a nurse practitioner and will also talk about the factors that may contribute to those differences.


1. Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor: What Do They Do?

The responsibilities of nurse practitioners vary according to each state’s Nurse Practitioner practice authority laws. While state laws may show some variance, many states require nurse practitioners to practice under the supervision of or in collaboration with a licensed physician.

Nurse practitioners typically:

• Order and interpret lab work and other tests
• Diagnose and treat acute and chronic health problems
• Prescribe medications and/or treatments
• Educate patients and families on disease prevention and management
• Counsel patients

Doctor job responsibilities may include:

• Diagnose and treat chronic and acute illness and injury
• Order diagnostic tests/examinations for other healthcare professionals to perform
• Interpret and review test results
• Recommend, design and prescribe patient care plans

While both NPs and doctors prescribe medications, some states require NPs to have collaborative agreements with physicians in order to prescribe medications and some treatments. Doctors can prescribe medications in all fifty states and the District of Columbia without collaborative agreements with other physicians.

2. Entry-Level Nurse Practitioner vs. Doctor Salary

The salary difference between a nurse practitioner and a doctor at entry-level varies. Entry-level doctors typically earn about $60,910, while an entry-level nurse practitioner who has worked less than one year may earn a salary of a little over $81,000. In some cases, annual salaries for entry-level nurse practitioners range between $77,000 and $117,000, depending on their geographical location.

Occupation Entry-Level Salary
Nurse Practitioner $81,410
Doctor (Physician) $60,910
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

3. Hourly Doctor vs. Nurse Practitioner Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, doctors typically earn approximately $100 per hour, on average. Nurse practitioners often make a little over $50 per hour. Of course, these are average hourly pay rates and various factors may contribute to higher or lower hourly rates for both professionals.

Occupation Average Hourly Pay
Nurse Practitioner $53.77
Doctor (Physician) $97.81
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

4. Average Annual Salary of Nurse Practitioners vs. Doctors

While both nurse practitioners and doctors can enjoy the benefit of great incomes, doctors make almost twice as much as nurse practitioners. In fact, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, doctors typically earn an average annual salary of about $200,000 or more. Nurse practitioners, on the other hand, earn approximately $111,840 each year.

Factors that may influence the salary nurse practitioners and doctors earn include the geographical location where services are provided, years of experience in the profession, and type of healthcare setting where they work. Additionally, some nurse practitioners and doctors may be required to work nights or weekends or take calls, which can also increase their earning potential.

Occupation Average Annual Salary
Nurse Practitioner $111,840
Doctor (Physician) $203,450
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

5. Experience-Wise Doctor vs. Nurse Practitioner Salary

As we have seen above, in comparison, the average salary of a doctor vs a nurse practitioner is typically higher. However, nurse practitioners and doctors both have significant earning potential. From the time nurse practitioners and doctors enter the workforce and begin to gain experience, their earnings typically increase. The chart below gives a review of both nurse practitioner and physician earnings from entry-level to twenty or more years’ worth of experience.

Occupation Level of Experience Hourly Monthly Annual
Nurse Practitioner Starting (Entry-Level) $39.14 $6,780 $81,410
1-4 Years of Experience $44.61 $7,730 $92,790
5-9 Years of Experience $52.80 $9,150 $109,820
10-19 Years of Experience $61.07 $10,590 $127,030
20 Years or More Experience $73.15 $12,680 $152,160
Doctor (Physician) Starting (Entry-Level) $29.28 $5,080 $60,910
1-4 Years of Experience $53.95 $9,350 $112,210
5-9 Years of Experience $99.28 $17,210 $206,500
10-19 Years of Experience >$100.00 >$17,330 >$208,000
20 Years or More Experience >$100.00 >$17,330 >$208,000

6. Differences in Employee Benefits and Perks

The specific perks and benefits that doctors and nurse practitioners may be offered vary depending on the type of facility where they work and years of experience. Benefits for both positions may include employer-sponsored insurance, paid personal leave, holiday pay, and sick leave that is independent from personal leave.

Although some nurse practitioners may make rounds at hospitals or nursing homes, many enjoy the perk of not having to take calls after hours or on weekends. Doctors and nurse practitioners alike may have work schedules that allow for more time freedom than other healthcare professionals such as RNs or LPNs. Although doctors may take night or weekend calls, NPs and doctors (especially family practice doctors) often work in clinic settings which means few, if any, nights or weekends working.

7. Doctor vs. Nurse Practitioner Salary Outlook

The demand for healthcare providers with varying levels of degrees continues to rise. The increased need for healthcare providers with advanced degrees is anticipated in large part due to the number of baby boomers who are reaching retirement age. Because the demand for qualified healthcare providers is expected to increase, the salary outlook for both doctors and nurse practitioners is quite favorable.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for nurse practitioners will increase by 26 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Additionally, the BLS reports a projected growth of 7 percent from 2018 to 2028 for physician jobs. As the demand for physicians and nurse practitioners grows, the outlook for salary increases is more favorable.

8. State-Wise Doctor vs. Nurse Practitioner Salary

Because the cost of living varies from state to state, when comparing the difference between a doctor and nurse practitioner salary, you will find that there is a significant difference in the salaries offered depending on geographical location. For many healthcare specialties, California is one of the highest paying states. However, although the difference between average nurse practitioner vs doctor salary in California is approximately $71,480, it is not the state with the highest salary difference.

Michigan is currently the state with the lowest annual salary for doctors at about $168,190. Tennessee pays a little more than $96,000 per year for nurse practitioners, making it the state with the lowest salary range for NPs. Doctors practicing in Alaska have an average annual salary of $258,550 which is the highest reported annual pay per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The same source cites California as the state that pays nurse practitioners the most, with an average annual income of $138,660.

Alaska pay scale reflects the largest gap between doctors (physicians) and nurse practitioner salaries with an average difference of a little over $140,000 annually. While the same professionals working in New York may only have a salary difference of about $56,560 each year.

State Doctor (Physician) Nurse Practitioner The Difference in Salary Between Doctors (Physicians) and NPs
Alabama $196,650 $99,570 $97,080
Alaska $258,550 $115,890 $142,660
Arizona $216,200 $111,480 $104,720
Arkansas $174,440 $105,840 $68,600
California $210,140 $138,660 $71,480
Colorado $220,710 $106,760 $113,950
Connecticut $208,310 $115,140 $93,170
Delaware $224,130 $112,430 $111,700
District of Columbia $182,120 $111,950 $70,170
Florida $212,780 $101,510 $111,270
Georgia $236,530 $105,670 $130,860
Hawaii $229,310 $124,000 $105,310
Idaho $234,390 $110,860 $123,530
Illinois $190,750 $107,860 $82,890
Indiana $244,980 $106,380 $138,600
Iowa $218,830 $109,910 $108,920
Kansas $182,180 $100,550 $81,630
Kentucky $225,240 $99,560 $125,680
Louisiana $193,670 $106,240 $87,430
Maine $251,930 $106,960 $144,970
Maryland $191,690 $111,800 $79,890
Massachusetts $186,040 $122,240 $63,800
Michigan $168,190 $108,660 $59,530
Minnesota $236,270 $122,850 $113,420
Mississippi $171,050 $110,740 $60,310
Missouri $205,580 $105,050 $100,530
Montana $247,720 $109,120 $138,600
Nebraska $177,080 $105,450 $71,630
Nevada $219,430 $115,970 $103,460
New Hampshire $257,220 $110,680 $146,540
New Jersey $207,440 $123,810 $83,630
New Mexico $229,770 $111,930 $117,840
New York $179,110 $122,550 $56,560
North Carolina $185,290 $105,890 $79,400
North Dakota $229,550 $110,950 $118,600
Ohio $213,930 $103,780 $110,150
Oklahoma $177,420 $113,200 $64,220
Oregon $195,930 $113,430 $82,500
Pennsylvania $198,750 $101,950 $96,800
Rhode Island $205,090 $115,310 $89,780
South Carolina $201,290 $100,680 $100,610
South Dakota $218,290 $102,230 $116,060
Tennessee $192,190 $96,510 $95,680
Texas $200,590 $115,440 $85,150
Utah $209,420 $105,240 $104,180
Vermont N/A $105,840 N/A
Virginia $187,740 $109,110 $78,630
Washington $238,350 $126,920 $111,430
West Virginia $207,040 $103,170 $103,870
Wisconsin $246,060 $112,130 $133,930
Wyoming $225,190 $118,110 $107,080
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

9. Annual Job Openings Comparison

The annual job openings that are expected to become available for both nurse practitioners and doctors is almost 17,000 jobs each year. This figure represents new jobs and replacement jobs. Replacement jobs refer to openings in positions that become available when someone reaches retirement age or changes professional roles. New jobs are positions that are created to accommodate the rising need for a specific type of professional, such as a doctor or nurse practitioner.

Occupation New Replacement Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement)
Nurse Practitioner 5,330 11,570 16,900
Doctor (Physician) 3,370 13,130 16,500
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

10. Job Outlook Comparison

U.S. News and World Report documents nurse practitioner careers as the fourth-ranking career in its list of Top 100 Best Jobs in America. A 2018 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates nurse practitioner job opportunities to grow by 28 percent from 2018 to 2028. This estimation is in line with the previous predictions of estimated NP job growth between 24 and 34 percent. The Nurse Journal reports that underserved areas and rural communities will provide the highest number of nurse practitioner jobs. It reports that approximately fifty percent of nurse practitioners earn six-figure salaries.

In another report, the BLS suggests an estimated 7.77 percent increase in openings for doctors from 2018 to 2028. This rate is faster than the national average for any other occupation. While some areas of medicine that require a specialty show a likelihood of increased growth, family practice or general practitioner physicians are expected to see the greatest growth.

Occupation Employment New Employment Growth (2018-2028)
2018 2028 Number %
Nurse Practitioner 189,100 242,400 53,300 28.19%
Doctor (Physician) 433,700 467,400 33,700 7.77%
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The Bottom Line

If you are trying to decide which career path will be most beneficial for you and your long-term goals, there are many options for both doctors and nurse practitioners that offer a variety of benefits and perks. Although the difference between doctor vs nurse practitioner salary is quite significant, there is no doubt that both professionals can earn a substantial income.

Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years' experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels.