“They’re just nurses, simply a doctor’s assistant,”…a cliché that is nothing new to us. In fact, some patients would treat us as if we are their paid servants. As professional health care providers, we would usually marginalize such perceptions and focus more on our patients. However, for the “nth time,” it would also be best to demarcate how nurses and doctors work hand in hand and what tasks are best done or can only be done by nurses and not by doctors.

nurses and doctor do, nurses can do

First and foremost, this is not written to underestimate or demean a health care provider. Working in the health care industry is not only physically strenuous but also emotionally. Finally, this article is drafted to create a sense of awareness on the distinctions of nurse’s and doctors’ roles and their limitations.

If we are to describe these two health care providers, we would say that doctors are superior to nurses, which is somehow true in terms of hierarchy. However, this does not imply that they are also superior to nurses in terms of skills. According to Maverick Health, doctors and nurses can be differentiated in an effortless manner. Doctors study and cure disease, while nurses study and heal people. On the other hand, their technical delineation is, “a physician is a person with formal education and training in medicine, i.e., the treatment of diseases using drugs, procedures and/or surgery. A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with formal education in the care of the sick plus advanced education and training in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of common and chronic illnesses.” The direct quote from Maverick Health expounds that both doctors and nurses do the same tasks but demonstrate it from different perspectives.

Maverick Health also explained that there had been studies conducted that found that nurse practitioners also do about 80% to 90% of what the doctors do. In addition, the care rendered by nurse practitioners is at least equivalent and, in certain instances, even superior to the care provided by doctors. These results may have some degree of biases; however, it is also a venue for us to ponder how such results could be possible.

What can the NURSES DO that DOCTORS CAN’T?

Nurses are Flexible

Although we have GPs who take care of general health concerns in their earliest stage, most doctors are limited to their specialized areas. As a nurse, we can work across various units or wards without the need to have a formal education again. In fact, our supervisors can assign us to different unit the next day if needed (this often transpire when there is a shortage of nurses in a unit or ward).

Making Diagnosis

A medical diagnosis focus on the illness, while a nursing diagnosis focus on the patient. Medical diagnosis is back-up with laboratory works and procedures in order to confirm the disease. Technically speaking, we know how to make medical diagnoses since we also have knowledge of interpreting laboratory results. In addition to this, we are also aware of confirmatory tests used that help rule out certain diseases from consideration. On the other hand, doctors do not know how to make nursing diagnoses. A nursing diagnosis is beyond medical procedures and laboratory results, for it is patient-oriented. In my perspective, I would consider nursing diagnosis to be more complicated, since we do not only focus on the disease per se but also on other responses brought about by their disease/s. This means that we also need to deliberate on their emotional, mental, social, and spiritual needs aside from the physical aspect. Each of these aspects has a unique impact on the patient and should not be marginalized.             

We can do bedside care for half a day.

We know our patients better because we can stay with them longer, unlike doctors who would only spend 15 minutes (probably maximum) during their rounds. This is one of the great advantages of nurses, which doctors can also benefit from, because staying with the patient’s longer allows us to assess better and address their needs. Oftentimes, this becomes an opportunity for us to uplift their spirit, enabling and empowering them to enhance their health. We must admit that medicine is not the ultimate cure for everything; sometimes, having someone to talk and giggle with makes our patients feel better.

Hands-on tasks are often better done by nurses.

There are certain tasks which we can say, “are better done by us.” I would say that we are more competent in these skills, for we do it more often than doctors. But the hard truth is, this can’t always be the reason because patients have high regard for doctors, and most would expect them to be very competent in every possible skill. Skills such as taking blood pressure using the palpatory method, insertion of IV line, and catheterization, to name a few, are the skills that nurses are more competitive at.

Like what I said previously, nothing from this article intent to disgrace any doctors. Therefore to be, here are some of the tasks that Doctors can do but Nurses cannot:

  • Nurses cannot make prescriptions of medications.
  • Nurses cannot conduct surgeries and other invasive procedures
  • Nurses cannot certify death legally
  • Nurses cannot provide medical diagnosis
  • Nurses cannot make final decisions for the patient’s care.

Doctors, nurses, med tech, rad tech, and other health care professionals have different roles but aim on the same goal. Thus, as a patient, we should consistently give high regard to them for they work hand in hand for our best interest. As nurses, we should also respect other health care providers because, without one of them, holistic care to all patients may not be possible. In the health care industry, “No Man Is an Island,” or should I say “No Health Care Provider Is an Island,” because we will always be needing the aid of one another. This connection will forever and perpetually exist.


  1. What is the difference between a physician and a nurse practitioner? (n.d). Maverick Health. Retrieved November 25, 2015 from http://www.maverickhealth.com/faq/nurse/582/  
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