What is a Nurse Practitioner?

Before we go any further, I want to be sure that you know exactly what a nurse practitioner (NP) is and how we function within the healthcare system.

More than likely, you have seen nurse practitioners in the doctor’s office, in the hospital, in nursing homes, etc. But what are they and how are they different from physicians?

Facts about nurse practitioners:

  • All NPs must have a master’s or doctoral degree and have advanced clinical training beyond their professional registered nurse education. This includes didactic courses and hands-on clinical hours.
  • NPs receive specialized training to practice in primary care, acute care, and long term care settings. We can be found in outpatient offices, hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools, health departments, and emergency rooms.
  • NPs undergo national certification as well as individual state licensure. Self-directed continuing education and professional development are required to maintain clinical competency.
  • NPs must specialize in one area which include Family health, adult, pediatric, women’s health, acute care, and several others. NPs may specialize in a sub specialty such as cardiovascular, dermatology, or neurology.
  • What sets NPs apart from other health care providers is the unique emphasis on holistic health. We tend to focus a lot on wellness and prevention.

In collaboration with a physician and interdisciplinary health care team, the NP can order and interpret diagnostic testing, order lab testing, treat acute and chronic conditions, and prescribe medications. Laws vary from state to state regarding the amount of autonomy an NP can have in practice. For example, in some states, NPs can practice independently with no physician supervision. These NPs can open their own private practice if they wish.

What about a physician assistant (PA)? How are these different from nurse practitioners?

In general, NPs and PAs perform very similar job roles ie diagnosing and prescribing. The main differences stem from education and certification. PAs are not required to focus on a specific population; their training is general. They must always practice under a supervising physician. Both must have at least a master’s degree. NPs are usually experienced as registered nurses before obtaining a graduate degree.

Why should I see a nurse practitioner?

There are many benefits to seeing an NP the next time you visit your doctor’s office.

  • NPs are not only qualified to provide exceptional care but also to perform research, educate, and work in healthcare administration.
  • Patients tend to be highly satisfied with the care they receive from an NP.
  • NPs offer cost-effective care.
  • NPs are providing a solution to the primary care shortage that America is facing today.

I hope this was informative. Please let me know if you have any questions, I would be happy to help!