A nurse practitioner (NP) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) that has acquired post-graduate education and has earned either their masters of science in nurse (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree.
Those who work as nurse practitioners may choose to focus their education on a particular field of speciality such as pediatric care, psychiatric nursing, neonatal care, geriatric nursing, acute care, family care or women’s health among other health care fields and may choose to specialize in more than one field of health care at a time.
Nurse practitioners are able to diagnose and treat an assortment of injuries and illnesses (including chronic and acute ailments) within the spectrum of their practice, prescribe medications, and act as a primary health care provider for their patients.
Because of the extensive education and specialized training nurse practitioners receive they are able to treat and care for patients of all ages from infants to elderly patients without the direct supervision of a medical professional such as a doctor.
Description and Responsibilities
Nurse practitioners are able to perform all of the same functions of a registered nurse and have specialized training within a particular chosen field of health care which allows them to provide additional medical care to patients in their field of specialty.
Nurse practitioners (NP) focus on a specialized field of health care such as acute care, gynecology, adult health, holistic care and women’s rights and will provide effective medical care and treatments to patients within their specialized field.
Some of the duties nurse practitioners are responsible for include diagnosing and treating their patients condition, reviewing their patients medical history, prescribing medications (qualifications vary by state), taking x-rays, researching the latest medical procedures and practices so that they can increase their knowledge of the field, prescribing therapy to patients that require rehabilitation and a host of other medical tasks that relate to their field of study.
Nurse practitioners also help their patients by providing them with information regarding their condition and educating their patients on how to best improve their physical or mental ailments and attain better health.
In order to improve the health care system nurse practitioners may participate as part of an advocacy group which focuses on improving medical research and enhancing patient care.
Here are a list of areas nurse practitioners may choose to focus their education and profession on:
- Acute Care
- Adult Health
- College Health
- Community Health
- Family Health
- Holistic Care
- Palliative Care
- Women’s Health
Nurse practitioners treat patients who are suffering from an assortment of mental and/or physical ailments, diagnose and treat their patients condition, review their patients medical history, prescribe medications, take x-rays, research medical practices and procedures in order to advance their knowledge, perform physical’s and screenings and prescribe physical therapy to patients in need of physical rehabilitation among other medical related tasks.
Note: While nurse practitioners are able to open their own clinics and act as their patients primary health care provider, however they cannot perform surgery.
In order for a nurse practitioner to perform surgery they would have to go back to school and acquire the same education, training and licensing that a surgeon has in order to perform surgery.
In other words a nurse practitioner would have to become a surgeon in order to perform surgery.
Areas of operation
Because of the large scope of practices and treatments nurse practitioners are able to perform they can be found working in a number of different health care settings including hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, doctor/nurse practitioner offices, schools and colleges, health care centers and a number of organizations within the private and public health care sectors.
Where nurse practitioners can be found:
- Community clinics
- Doctor offices
- Health departments
- Health care agencies
- Health care centers
- Government facilities/agencies
- Nursing homes
- Nurse practitioner offices
- Urgent care centers
- Walk in clinics
Schedule and hours
The number of hours a nurse practitioner is likely to work in a given week varies depending on the health care organization they work for, the staffing needs of that organization and the overall need for nurse practitioners in their area.
NP’s that work at a hospital may work 8 hour shifts or longer depending on the hospitals needs.
In some locations this may mean working 10 – 12 hour shifts (or longer) in order to ensure that patients are receiving adequate care.
NP’s may also work longer shifts during employee shortages or when an advanced practice rn/nurse practitioner calls out and their shift needs to be filled.
Nurse practitioners that work at a clinic or doctors office may work 8am – 5pm shifts Monday – Friday or whatever hours of operation that health care office operates.
Unfortunately there is no general set schedule for nurse practitioners because their schedule is often dependent upon the organization they work for and any agreements made between the NP and their organization.
Salary and expectations
The amount of money a nurse practitioner is likely to make in a given year may vary depending on a number of factors such as the health care organization they work for, the state they work in, the amount of overtime they work, any bonuses, compensations and incentives they receive and any negotiations made between them and their employer.
The average salary for a nurse practitioner in the United States is around $92, 000 with salaries varying between $80,000 – $105,000 or more depending on the various factors described above.
One of the biggest factors in determining a NP’s salary (besides education and training) has to do with the state they work in.
In many cases NP’s that work in high metropolis areas such as New York, N.Y. may make salary of around $92,500 – $123,200, while those who work in Wyoming may make a salary of around $70,500 – $94,000.
It is important to keep in mind that while NP’s that work in one state may make less than those that work in another state factors such as cost of living, taxes and other expenses may significantly decrease or nullify any financial advantages of working in a state that offers higher wages.
Demand and Importance
Nurse practitioners are extremely important to the well-being of the health care field.
As nurses and doctors face increasing shortages due to high retirement numbers and a growing economy the need for highly educated and trained nurse practitioners will continue to grow.
Because nurse practitioners are well-trained they are able to treat a number of individuals that are dealing with various mental and/or physical conditions (within their educational understanding), diagnose various ailments and create treatments plans to treat their patients condition, review the history records of their patients, write prescriptions, perform x-rays, perform screenings and physical exams, delegate physical therapy to patients that need rehabilitation, act as a primary health care provider for patients and open a NP clinic among other medical practices.
In fact with the right push nurse practitioners may be able provide a positive push to the health care system and improve overall patient care.
7 reasons nurse practitioners are important
- As the doctor and nursing shortages continue to grow nurse practitioners will be able to help fill in the gaps and treat patients with a variety of injuries, illnesses and medical ailments.
- Nurse practitioners are able to open up their own clinics, which would provide patients with shorter waiting times due to more clinics being available to them.
- Nurse practitioners are able to prescribe medication and treat patients without the presence of a doctor (certain laws may vary by state).
- Nurse practitioners are able to prescribe rehabilitation programs to patients in of physical therapy.
- Nurse practitioners have extensive training in their chosen field and are able to use their education to provide the best medical care possible to their patients.
- Nurse practitioners are able to act as their patients primary health care provider.
- Because nurse practitioners specialize in a particular area of health care they are able to continually expand their knowledge in their chosen field and become more proficient and effective in their specialty over the years.
Those who are interested in becoming nurse practitioners must first acquire their bachelors of science in nursing degree (BSN) and pass the national council licensure exam for registered nurse (NCLEX-RN).
Once you have acquired your BSN degree and obtained your license as a registered nurse the next step is choose a masters program in nursing from an accredited nursing school and decide on an area of speciality that you would like to focus your education on.
Some of these field include:
- Acute Care
- Adult Health
- College Health
- Community Health
- Family Health
- Holistic Care
- Palliative Care
- Women’s Health
Depending on the field of speciality you choose and whether or not you are a full-time or part-time student it may take 1 1-2 – 2 1/2 years to complete your education and training.
Note: Depending on the nurse practitioner program a registered nurse applies for some programs may require registered nurses to obtain 1 – 2 years of work experience before allowing them to gain acceptance into the practitioner program.
Education and training may include textbook material, video’s, simulations, lectures/seminars and cumulative clinical work (students may be required to obtain a certain number of clinical hours while in the program) experience while you are in the nursing program and earning your MSN or DNP degree.
Once you’ve completed the NP program you must maintain both an RN license and NP certification in order to begin working as a nurse practitioner.
Tip: Upon successful completion of the BSN program and earning your RN license you may want to think about working as a registered nurse for a little while in order to gain vital training and experience which will help you gain important insights into the field of nursing.
By working as a registered nurses for 1 – 3 years you can gain the experience and training you need to decide on whether or not a career as a nurse practitioner is something you would like to pursue.
Note: Due to the ever-increasing education standards nurse practitioners face it is possible that by 2015 all nurse practitioner programs will require potential NP’s to acquire their doctor of nursing practice (DNP) in order to begin working as a nurse practitioner.
Nurse practitioners and doctors (The great debate)
Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) or doctors of nursing practice (DNP), however they are not doctors of medicine (MD).
Nurse practitioners can go back to medical school and acquire their MD if they choose to do so.
The debate as to whether or not nurse practitioners (NP) should be considered at the same level as a doctor (referring to MD’s) has been a discussion amongst health care providers for many years.
Nurse practitioners are able to perform many of the same tasks doctors perform including treating patients that are suffering from a number of mental and/or physical ailments (related to the NP’s field of speciality), diagnose and treat their patients condition, prescribe medications, take x-rays, perform physical’s and screenings, prescribe physical therapy to patients in need of physical rehabilitation, act as their patients primary health care provider and open their own clinics.
Nurse practitioners are also able to acquire the highest level of education in their profession and earn their Doctor’s of nursing practice degree (DNP), however some health care providers believe that the education and training nurse practitioners receive isn’t adequate enough for them to be considered the equivalent of a doctor.
In fact some states require nurse practitioners that have their own clinics to be accompanied by a doctor to sign off on medical charts and provide supervision in order to assure that the nurse practitioner is performing his/her duties in a proficient manner.
One argument on the education debate regarding nurses being considered doctors states that doctors are trained to focus on disease while nurses are trained to think holistically.
Another reason health care providers are debating whether or not nurse practitioners should be considered doctors has to do with the fear of patients confusing nurses for doctors.
Some health care providers claim that by calling a nurse practitioner a doctor the patient may be confused and believe they are receiving medical care from a doctor instead of a nurse.
In addition to the health care professionals nurse practitioners also face more difficulty being recognized by insurance companies as they have stated that it is harder to get patient bills paid because of their status and receive less financial compensation for their work than doctors do.
Some nurse practitioners feel that the real argument is one of financial gains and/or prestigious titles.
By having more nurse practitioners working in the field NP’s belive that doctors will make less money due to less patient volume and according a post by Business Week the Doctor field could see a shortage of 130,000 doctors by the year 2025, which could provide nurse practitioners with many opportunities should they decide to open their own clinics.
In the end nurse practitioners are able to provide many of the same functions a doctor is able to provide including doing screenings, prescribing medications and acting as their patients primary health care provider, however doctors have been trained extensively on diseases and other areas of health care which allows them to understand and interpret a patients medical condition and provide assessments and treatments based on their advanced education and training.