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A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse (RN) who has completed advanced education (a minimum of a master's degree) and training in the diagnosis and management of common medical conditions, including chronic illnesses. Nurse practitioners provide a broad range of health care services. They provide some of the same care provided by physicians and maintain close working relationships with physicians. An NP can serve as a patient's regular health care provider.
Nurse Practitioners (NPs), essentially Advanced Practice Nurses, can provide care to patients throughout the lifespan, from premature newborns to the elderly. NPs need to be critical thinkers: they must obtain relevant information about a person’s health status from a wide variety of sources (the patient’s verbal communication, clinical examination, diagnostic tests) and use that data to independently make evidence-based decisions about when, why, and how to address health care needs. They also need to be able to cope well with stress, since their work includes direct involvement with human suffering, emergencies, and other pressures.
Because the profession is state regulated, care provided by NPs varies. NPs can prescribe medications, including controlled substances, in all 50 states. In 25 states, NPs have authority to practice independently.
In general, a nurse practitioner's duties include the following:
Nurse practitioners provide high-quality, cost-effective individualized care, and NP services are often covered by insurance providers. The institutions in which NPs work include, but is not limited to, the following: Community clinics and health centers, Health departments, Health maintenance organizations (HMOs), Home health care agencies, Hospitals and hospital clinics, Hospice centers, Nurse practitioner offices, Nursing homes, Nursing schools, Physician offices, Private offices, Public health departments, School/college clinics, Veterans Administration facilities, and Walk-in clinics.
Most NPs specialize in a particular field of medical care, and there are as many types of NPs as there are medical specialties. In addition to health care services, NPs conduct research and are often active in patient advocacy activities.
To be licensed as a nurse practitioner, the candidate must first complete the education and training necessary to be a registered nurse (RN).
Requirements for a registered nurse include an associate degree in nursing (ADN), a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN), or completion of a diploma program, as well as direct patient care for acutely or chronically ill patients. Associate degree in nursing programs, which are offered by community and junior colleges, usually take 2–3 years. BSN programs are offered by colleges and universities and take 4–5 years and diploma programs are administered in hospitals and usually take 2–3 years. Depending on the program attended, the candidate may fulfill some NP requirements while completing the RN degree.
In most cases, state regulations require and professionals and employers in the field strongly recommend a master's degree as a minimal requirement for NPs. To become NPs, nurses with an ADN or diploma enter a bachelor of science to master's program. They may be able to find a staff nursing position and take advantage of tuition reimbursement programs to work toward a BSN.
Once registered nurse status is attained, the candidate must complete a state-approved advanced training program that usually specializes in a field such as family practice, internal medicine, or women's health. The degree can be granted by any of the following:
The variety of educational paths for NPs is a result of the history of the field. In 1965, the profession of nurse practitioner was instituted and required a master's degree. In the late 1960s into the 1970s, predictions of a physician shortage increased funding and attendance in nurse practitioner programs. During the 1970s, the NP requirements relaxed to include continuing education programs, which helped accommodate the demand for NPs. Currently, educational options require a master's or doctorate to attain NP status.
If you are going into this field, you should know that there is a growing national movement to require all NPs to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. This degree is called a practice doctorate and is similar to the academic credentials earned by dentists (DDS), physicians (MD/DO), clinical psychologists (PsyD or PhD), clinical pharmacists (PharmD) and other health care providers. DNP programs require 3 to 4 years study beyond a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
After completing the education program, the candidate must be licensed by the state in which he or she plans to practice. The State Boards of Nursing regulate nurse practitioners and each state has its own licensing and certification criteria. In general, the criteria include completion of a nursing program and clinical experience. Because state board requirements differ, nurse practitioners may have to fulfill additional requirements, such as certification by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or a specialty nursing organization. The license period varies by state; some require biennial relicensing, others require triennial.
After receiving state licensing, a nurse practitioner can apply for national certification from the ANA or other professional nursing boards such as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). Some NPs pursue certification in a specialty. Several organizations oversee certification, including the following:
A women's health nurse must have experience in direct patient care, education, administration, and/or research. He or she must have graduated from an OB/GYN nurse practitioner program (1-year program that is accepted by the National Certification Corporation for the Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing Specialties). The NP must also complete a required number of teaching and clinic hours in an OB/GYN setting. The National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health (NPWH) oversees the accreditation of programs that prepare NPs in women's health.
The application process to enter a Nurse Practitioner program varies depending on the background from which you are applying. It is recommended that you research your school of interest for their specific requirements.
NP Central NP Central is a creative solution developed by Nurse Practitioners to help meet the needs of practicing Nurse Practitioners. NP Central is a non-profit organization dedicated to the practice development, advancement and educational support of Nurse Practitioners and to the promotion of accessible, quality, health care to the consumer.
American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) AANP formed in 1985 to provide NPs with a unified way to network and advocate for NP issues and was the first national organization created for nurse practitioners of all specialties.
Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health NPWH represents nurse practitioners that provide care to women in the primary care setting as well as in women's health specialty practices. NPWH is a trusted source of information on nurse practitioner education, practice, and women's health issues.
The Nurse Practitioner's Place A nurse practitioner blog/website. Information relevant to nurse practitioner practice. Links to other nurse practitioner, nurse, and medical professional sites.