Nurse Practitioners

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Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with graduate-level clinical training qualifying them to diagnose, treat, and prescribe like physicians. Their advanced education enables NPs to deliver many of the same services traditionally provided only by doctors.

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners (NPs) have advanced graduate-level nursing degrees and additional training beyond registered nurses. This equips them to provide many of the same services as physicians. NPs deliver patient-centered care rooted in disease prevention, healthy living, and genuinely understanding patients’ health issues. They can serve as primary care providers or specialize in particular demographics.

Patients encounter NPs in diverse settings, including private practices, hospitals, urgent care clinics, nursing homes, schools, and homeless shelters. Their advanced expertise allows them to diagnose, treat, and manage both acute and chronic illnesses. They work in a variety of healthcare settings, including:

An advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) may also hold the title of nurse practitioner (NP). Some also use the term advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) to refer to this role. The distinctions between these titles relate to specific educational, certification, and licensing requirements, though the roles often overlap in day-to-day practice. For example, most NPs will obtain APRN certification even if their state licensure title remains NP rather than APRN or ARNP.

nurse practitioner definition
What is a nurse practitioner?

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

Like registered nurses, nurse practitioners have responsibilities such as taking medical histories and giving medication. But nurse practitioners also do more than registered nurses, with a wider scope of duties. Nurse practitioners provide advanced nursing care to their patients.

This includes delivering preventive care, making diagnoses of health conditions, and managing treatment plans for those in their care. They can work on their own or together with doctors to furnish complete healthcare services.

Difference Between a Nurse Practitioner and a Physician Assistant

Though NPs and physician assistants (PAs) both deliver comparable services, their philosophies on patient care differ.

PAs adhere to the medical model like physicians, concentrating on analyzing symptoms, making diagnoses, and providing treatment plans aimed at the illness itself. In addition, they tend to subspecialize in a particular field of medicine or disease state.

In contrast, NPs align with the nursing model, emphasizing holistic care of the individual patient. Their advanced education and training focus on meeting the needs of specific patient populations rather than specialized medical disciplines.

The PA role revolves around the disease, while the NP role revolves around the person. This core difference informs their respective clinical perspectives and specializations.

Healthcare Professionals

What Are the Different Kinds of Nurse Practitioners?

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses with graduate-level training who provide primary, acute, and specialty healthcare services. They complete Master’s or Doctoral programs and advanced clinical training in focused areas of medicine. The type of certification reflects their patient population and care expertise.

There are many nurse practitioner specialty and sub-specialty roles, including pediatric, family, adult-gerontology, mental health, emergency, critical care, neonatology, genetics, orthopedics, cardiology, and more. The subsequent sections will detail the many nurse practitioner roles.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

A psychiatric nurse practitioner provides comprehensive mental health care to adults, children and families. They assess, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and substance use disorders. They provide therapy, prescribe medications, and develop treatment plans. Some work in hospitals while others have private practices.

Family Nurse Practitioner

A family nurse practitioner provides primary and preventative care to patients of all ages. They can serve as a patient’s primary care provider, performing check-ups, diagnosing illnesses, managing chronic health conditions, and referring to specialists. Family nurse practitioners develop long-term relationships with patients and coordinate care across the healthcare system.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

A pediatric nurse practitioner provides comprehensive care to children from birth through young adulthood. They perform well-child exams, provide immunizations, diagnose and treat illnesses like ear infections, asthma, and ADHD, provide advice to parents, and refer to children’s specialists as needed. Some pediatric NPs have their own practices while others work in clinics or hospitals.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

A neonatal nurse practitioner cares for premature and critically ill newborns in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). They diagnose conditions, provide treatment, monitor infants’ progress, and educate parents on care after discharge. Neonatal NPs are advanced practice nurses with specialized skills in working with sick newborns and high-risk pregnancies.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

An acute care nurse practitioner treats patients with complex, critical, or life-threatening medical issues who require hospitalization. They work in hospitals, ICUs, and emergency rooms diagnosing conditions, performing procedures, managing treatment plans, and collaborating with physicians. Acute care NPs handle high-stress, fast-paced environments.

Emergency Nurse Practitioner

An emergency nurse practitioner works in hospital emergency departments providing acute care to patients with all types of traumatic injuries and medical emergencies. They triage patients, assess conditions, order diagnostic tests, diagnose conditions, treat issues like wounds, fractures, respiratory distress, stabilize patients, provide pain management, determine disposition by admitting patients or discharging home, and refer to specialists. Emergency NPs make rapid, lifesaving decisions.

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

An adult-gerontology nurse practitioner provides continuous healthcare for adults across the lifespan from young adulthood into elder years. They help patients manage chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, assess age-related changes, provide preventive and restorative care, order and interpret labs and diagnostics, prescribe medications, develop holistic care plans for optimal health and functioning, coordinate care services, and educate patients on healthy lifestyle habits.

Women's Health Nurse Practitioner

A women’s health nurse practitioner specializes in providing care for women and people assigned female at birth across their lifespan. They conduct well-woman exams, provide reproductive health services like contraception counseling or managing STIs, screen for cancers, provide prenatal/postpartum care, offer gynecological care through perimenopause/menopause, diagnose conditions like endometriosis, incontinence or infertility, order testing, and promote health education.

Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner

An orthopedic nurse practitioner cares for patients experiencing musculoskeletal problems from sports injuries, joint/spine issues, or chronic conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis. They assess mobility and function, order x-rays/MRI scans, diagnose conditions, develop care plans which may include pain management, physical therapy, bracing devices, medications, injections, or surgeries performed alongside orthopedic doctors, and educate on self-care strategies.

Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner

An aesthetic nurse practitioner enhances patients’ appearance through cosmetic procedures and surgeries. They consult with clients on appearance goals, recommend treatments like Botox, dermal filler injections, body sculpting, or facelifts/enhancements, assess candidacy, counsel on procedure risks and benefits, perform various nonsurgical and minimally invasive procedures, prescribe skin care regimens, and monitor results post-treatment working closely with plastic surgeons.

Oncology Nurse Practitioner

An oncology nurse practitioner manages comprehensive care for patients with cancer diagnoses like leukemia, lymphoma, or solid tumor cancers. Working closely with oncologists, they order cancer screens and biopsies to obtain diagnoses, stage cancers, enroll patients in clinical trials, prescribe chemotherapies or radiation plans, manage symptoms/side effects, provide palliative services like pain management, coordinate care delivery, advise on lifestyle needs, and counsel patients and family members.

How Do you Become a Nurse Practitioner?

To become a nurse practitioner requires six to eight years of medical training. First, you must become a registered nurse (RN) by earning either an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). Many nurses get a few years of experience before continuing their schooling.

The next step is enrolling in a graduate level nurse practitioner program. If you have a BSN already, you would pursue either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). If you only have an ADN, there are accelerated options:

These advanced practice programs combine classroom instruction in areas like pathophysiology, pharmacology, and health assessments with specialized clinical training. You also take coursework focused on your nurse practitioner specialty area. In some cases, 1-2 years of RN experience may be required before starting an MSN program.

After completing either an MSN or DNP program and getting licensed at the state level, nurse practitioners must pass a national certification exam to demonstrate competent practice across all states. Additional certifications can also be obtained through shorter certificate programs to specialize in other areas.

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