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What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

With the looming shortage in healthcare professionals, it's a great time to consider becoming a nurse practitioner. Continue reading to learn more!

Nurse practitioners represent a bridge between the healthcare support staff, such as registered nurses and healthcare technicians, and the primary care providers - your doctor. In fact, many organizations are looking to NPs to curb the impending physician shortage. In the future, it may be more common to see an NP for many clinical visits rather than a physician for this reason, and many already are.

The job title of "nurse practitioner" is still relatively new, having come into existence in 1965. As an advanced practice nurse, NPs take on the responsibilities of both registered nurses and physicians to provide efficient and cost-effective healthcare options for patients.

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What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), a nurse practitioners is a clinician who blends diagnosis and treatment with an added emphasis on disease prevention and health management.

NPs undergo rigorous certification, peer review, clinical evaluations, and are held to a code of ethics regarding their practice, but are generally responsible for:

  • Ordering, performing and interpreting diagnostic tests like x-rays and lab work
  • Diagnosing and treating acute and chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, infections, and injuries
  • Prescribing medications and other treatments
  • Managing patient care
  • Counseling patients and families
  • Educating patients on disease prevention, position health and lifestyle choices

A nurse practitioner's day-to-day has more similarities to that of a physician than a registered nurse though. NPs see patients in the same manner as physician, diagnose conditions and illnesses, and prescribe treatments and medications in the same way. The real difference for nurse practitioners vs physicians is the training.

Differences Between Nurse Practitioners & Physicians

While physicians spend more time in their training, they also gain a more advanced understanding of the illnesses that affect people and how to cure them (each depending on their specialty), and nurse practitioners spend their time moreso on healing by providing direct care for whatever may be ailing the patient.

Additionally, nurse practitioners spend significantly less time on their education than primary care physician do, needing to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and completing the required state certifications before being eligible for employment. Physicians must earn a M.D. or D.O. from an accredited medical school and complete the required residency program, adding up to a total of 10-14 years in school, including undergraduate studies. Comparatively, NPs only spend 6-8 years in school. This translates to significantly less debt than physicians without sacrificing too much in the way of their salary, benefits, or opportunities.

Therefore its no mystery why becoming a nurse practitioner has become an increasingly attractive option. This rings particularly true for current registered nurses who want to increase their value by taking on a leadership role as a nurse practitioner a few years down the line.

Nurse Practitioner Specialty Areas

Each individual is different and nurse practitioners are no exception. As with many other healthcare professions, NPs can specialize and further sub-specialize to work in the areas that mean the most to them.

Nurse practitioners can specialize in the following areas:

  • Acute Care
  • Adult Health
  • Family Health
  • Gerontology Health
  • Neonatal Health
  • Oncology
  • Pediatric/Child Health
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health
  • Women's Health

Sub-specialty areas include:

  • Allergy & immunology
  • Cardiovascular
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency
  • Endocrinology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Hematology & Oncology
  • Neurology
  • Occupational Health
  • Orthopedics
  • Pulmonology & Respiratory
  • Sports Medicine
  • Urology

Where Nurse Practitioners Work

Nurse practitioners are most often found working in clinics, private medical offices, hospitals, schools or college campuses, home health agencies, government health departments, and health maintenance organizations. The level of responsibility and management may also vary depending on the setting in which the NP is working.

The variety of work environments among NPs can also be an attractive quality that is driving more RNs to go back to school and complete their MSN. NPs have more flexibility than many other healthcare professions, as well as more autonomy.