What is a nurse practitioner?
When people think about being a nurse, they most often think about the person in the hospital who gives medication and carries out the doctor's orders. But there are several professional levels of nurses, and different professional levels do different things. Near the top of the nursing professional ladder is the nurse practitioner. This highly qualified health care provider is a nurse with the some of the most advanced education and training, who has the professional qualifications to work as a direct care provider, or as part of a medical team in some of the most challenging and demanding settings.
There are four areas of advanced practice nurses: nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist (CNS) and nurse practitioner. Each of these areas requires graduate level educations and extensive clinical training. But while the nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife and CNS focus in very specific areas of nursing and health care, the nurse practitioner's education and training allows them to care for broad sections of the population as a first-contact care provider. While a nurse practitioner will need to select a specialty population, their education and training prepares them to offer overall management of health, wellness and disease prevention, as well as direct care.
Health care is a growing field, and the need for more nurses is one of the most significant work-force issues in the industry right now. The US Bureau of Labor anticipates the need for nearly one million new and replacement nurses in the field by the year 2018. Because of this increasing demand, the field offers much higher than average job security.
What are the qualifications of a nurse practitioner?
A nurse practitioner is a nurse with a master of science or other graduate degree in nursing who has completed the necessary specialty courses and demanding clinical hours to sit for the national certification examination. A nurse practitioner chooses a population specialty: family, women's health, pediatric or neonatal, acute care, psychiatric or geriatric. Once the education and training requirements are met, a nurse practitioner candidate applies to one of the regulatory agencies for certification in their specialty area.
Nurse practitioners are licensed through their state nursing boards, and specific guidelines for application and education requirements do vary slightly from state to state, so be sure to research your state's specific guidelines. In addition, each state independently regulates NPs' scope of practice by specifically defining nurse practitioner jobs to include what they are or are not allowed to do. There are some differences between the states, but many states allow nurse practitioners to prescribe medications or other treatments, order tests and diagnose conditions.
Where do nurse practitioners work?
Because physician shortages are a challenge in many areas, nurse practitioners are an incredible resource for providing primary care. While nurse practitioners do not have the same level of medical education, training, or expertise as a physician, their qualifications make delivering primary care in many settings – including medical offices, skilled nursing facilities, free-standing clinics or ambulatory care centers – an excellent way to ensure quality health delivery when there are not enough doctors to go around.
In addition to selecting a population in order to receive their national board certification, nurse practitioners can specialize in a wide variety of clinical areas that include: cardiology, dermatology, neurology, orthopedics and emergency care, to name only a few.
What makes a nurse practitioner unique?
In addition to the greater capacity to give care and the greater responsibility that nurse practitioners have, the core philosophy of the NP is to provide health care that focuses on health and wellness as much as it focuses on response to illness and injury. Nurse practitioners study health promotion and health education, they are often active in health care policy and patient advocacy, and they are proponents of overall health management. Nurse practitioners commit themselves to a whole-person approach to health care that includes promoting a healthy lifestyle.