A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with advanced clinical training and formal education. Additionally, they are given more clinical authority than most nurses. The scope of practice for NPs depends on state regulations. In some States, they function much like physicians in terms of diagnosing and determining treatment options although they get a much lower fee than physicians. NPs in some other states have a lower scope of practice and must provide primary care or prescribe medications under the supervision of a physician.
The role of nurse practitioners is widespread. Nurse practitioners have a unique combination of nursing and medicine in their practice since they have responsibilities and they perform duties which in the past can only be done by physicians. Some of the duties of a nurse practitioner that registered nurses with lower credentials are not qualified to do include performing physical examinations, obtaining patient medical histories, writing medical prescriptions, diagnosing and treating chronic illnesses and injuries, ordering laboratory and diagnostic tests, developing and implementing care plans, providing health teachings and counseling, directing health agency referrals, prescribing physical therapy, and reassessing and adjusting plans of care. They also provide family planning services, prenatal care, screening tests and immunizations, and perform some minor surgical procedures such as casting and suturing.
Nurse practitioners specialize in several practice areas and they have different responsibilities as well. For instance, pediatric nurse practitioners address health issues that are related to infants and children while neonatal nurse practitioners manage the care of newborns especially those that are born with health problems. Other areas of specialty include family health, acute care, OB/GYN, nurse anesthetists, and gerontology care, psychiatric and mental health, women’s health, adult health and oncology care.
Nurse practitioners can work in a lot of different work environments such as hospitals, health centers, HMOs, home health care, hospice care, community centers, nursing homes and administrative health departments. There are also many employment opportunities in the government, universities and colleges, veterans’ facilities and doctor’s offices. Additionally, nurse practitioners can also go into independent or private practice.
In order to become a licensed nurse practitioner, the first step would be to complete formal education and clinical training that is needed to become a registered nurse. The prospective nurse practitioner must then apply to get into an accredited Master’s program of which the minimum requirements for acceptance are possession of an RN state license and a Bachelor’s degree in nursing. Therefore, nurses with Associate’s degree in nursing will first have to obtain their Bachelor’s degree in order to be qualified for application in the nurse practitioner program. Most of the nurse practitioner programs are offered in universities, colleges and private nurse practitioner schools. Furthermore, there are nurse practitioner programs that are offered online. After graduating from a nurse practitioner program, the prospective nurse practitioner must pass the national board certification that focuses in their area of specialization. Generally, board certification is administered by accrediting bodies such as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).