What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

RNs, LPNs, NPs. Sometimes the array of initials used to describe nurses can become confusing, but the different titles simply refer to different nursing skill and education levels. NPs, or Nurse Practitioners, are Registered Nurses who also have an advanced graduate degree and clinical experience.

What Nurse Practitioners Can Do

Many nurse practitioners work in the area of primary care. They can do many things a doctor can do, including diagnosing illness, prescribing medication and making patient referrals. Many nurse practitioners work closely with physicians who supervise them. Since their work is state regulated, how closely they must work with doctors, and how much they are able to do independent of supervision varies depending on the state in which they work.

Education and Certification for Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners have education and clinical experience beyond that of a regular RN. Their education and certification may be in a variety of areas including pediatrics, geriatrics, family health, oncology or a variety of other areas. In general, the role of Nurse Practitioner falls under the broader category of APRNs, which stands for Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. Other nursing roles, like Certified Nurse Midwives, fall under this umbrella category too.

Nurse practitioners generally complete a four year Bachelor of Nursing (BSN) degree followed by a master’s level degree (MSN). To get into MSN program, one needs to pass the GRE and also be licensed as an RN. Many students go on from the MSN to get a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree (DNP). In some nursing schools, students can bypass the MSN and go straight into the doctorate degree, which is becoming the desired degree for NPs. Nurse practitioners must also be board certified by a national board before they can practice. One of the main boards that provides certification is the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Patient Satisfaction With Nurse Practitioners

Patients seem to appreciate the holistic approach and time taken by nurse practitioners. NPs combine the more holistic approach of nursing care with skills in medical diagnosis. Recent studies indicate that patient satisfaction and actual outcomes are at least the same and in some instances higher when care received from physicians and nurse practitioners were compared.

The Growing Role of Nurse Practitioners

With healthcare practices undergoing a great deal of change, the role of the NP has become more vital in many communities. According to recent studies, more people than ever are being treated by nurse practitioners, particularly in areas where there are physician shortages. Not as many doctors leaving medical school are heading into the primary care field. Only about 1/3 of the doctors in direct care in the U.S. work in primary care. With the passing of the Affordable Care Act, it’s likely that the need for primary care services is going to increase even further.

Despite the fact that they receive graduate level education and clinical experience, nurse practitioners can also be trained in a significantly shorter amount of time than doctors. With all of these things taken into consideration, many people feel that nurse practitioners may be one way to fill an important ongoing and urgent need for primary care services. It’s definitely a career with a future.