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What does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

by Faith M. Zunner, RN, MSN, PMHNP-BC at the Strategies for Success Scottsdale Location

Chances are that by this time either you or a loved one have received health care from a nurse practitioner. Many work in doctor’s offices, although nurse practitioners can also be found in any location where health care is delivered, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home care. All nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have received advanced education and clinical training to diagnose and treat a patient’s condition that falls within their specialty areas of practice. There are many specialty areas of nurse practitioner practice, such as pediatric, psychiatric, women’s health, family medicine, geriatric, etc. Although there is crossover between the specialties, a nurse practitioner is restricted both ethically and legally to deliver health care within what he or she has been educationally and clinically prepared to do. For example, a geriatric nurse practitioner is not authorized to diagnose and treat children. In addition to maintaining an active RN license, a nurse practitioner must become certified in the particular specialty area by an accrediting agency, and must maintain that certification. In order to renew the RN license and the nurse practitioner certification continuing education is required, and other professional activities, such as mentoring nurse practitioner students and publishing articles in professional journals, are strongly encouraged.

The enactment of the Affordable Care Act is intended to guarantee all Americans access to health care. With the current shortage of primary care physicians and a population that is living longer, nurse practitioners are becoming critical in filling the gap between health care that is needed and health care that is available. In fact, nurse practitioners were first conceived of and introduced in the 1960’s to help alleviate the problem of a shortage of physicians. Physician assistants are also well-qualified professionals who fill an important role in bridging the gap between what is needed and what is available in health care, and function either similarly or identically to a nurse practitioner. The major differences between a physician’s assistant and a nurse practitioner have to do with legal and professional definitions, oversight, and philosophy of practice. The bottom line is that when you have a health care need or concern you can expect to receive quality health care whether your encounter is with a physician, a physician’s assistant, or a nurse practitioner.

For more information on this topic see the following book:

Nurse Practitioner’s Business Practice and Legal Guide, Fourth Edition, by Carolyn Buppert, CRNP, JD, 2012, Jones & Bartlett Learning, Sudbury, MA

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